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Monty Williams just had one of the best four-year stretches in NBA history to ever result in a firing. He took a team that had missed the playoffs for nearly a decade before his arrival to the NBA Finals in just his second season. He won Coach of the Year in 2022, and the NBA Coaches Association voted him its Coach of the Year in 2021 as well. All told, he went 194-115 as coach of the Suns and still lost his job. It would be unbelievable if we weren't living in a world in which five of the past seven coaches to reach the NBA Finals had lost their jobs in the past year.

But that brave new world offers remarkable opportunities. With so many qualified coaches available, Phoenix could pretty easily pivot into another championship-caliber choice. In fact, doing so might have been their easiest path to internal improvement. After all, it was no secret that Williams' relationship with former No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton had frayed over the past year. A lateral move in the head coaching slot could prove enormously beneficial if that coach can help Ayton become the player the Suns hoped he would be when they picked him over Luka Doncic.

That is part of what makes this job so intriguing. The Suns aren't the bottom-dweller they were the last time they needed a head coach. In Kevin Durant, they have a proven Finals MVP, and in Ayton and Devin Booker, they seemingly have a future beyond him. This is a team built to compete for titles now and remain competitive indefinitely thereafter. Virtually every top coach on the market will consider the Suns. Here are the six names to watch as they pursue a replacement for Williams.

Ty Lue

Ty Lue is currently employed by another NBA team. That team, the Los Angeles Clippers, who just lost to the Suns in the first round, has given no indication that it plans to replace its coach. Lue has publicly pledged his loyalty to L.A. Logically, this conversation should be over.

So why has Lue been persistently linked to the Bucks? Why is Marc Stein reporting that the Suns are going to explore the viability of hiring Lue as well? Does the league know something that the rest of us don't? Are the Clippers less committed to their coach than they appear?

Only time will tell. Here's what we do know: Lue faced Williams in the playoffs twice and outcoached him in both matchups. Williams emerged the victor in both series, but the Suns were shorthanded in both 2021 and 2023 and managed to keep both of the series competitive. ESPN's Jackie MacMullan reported Lue as a name Durant was interested in to lead his Brooklyn Nets in 2020. Lue has won a championship and reached the NBA Finals three times.

The Clippers could command compensation from any team trying to hire Lue this offseason due to his current contract. The Suns don't have a first-round pick to offer thanks to the Durant trade. The Clippers don't have to let Lue go at all. But the more his name comes up in these conversations, the less committed he appears to be to the Clippers. Eventually, he's either going to publicly squash the rumors or he's going to land in one of these jobs. Until then? He's a leading candidate.

Tom Izzo

Tom Izzo has been pursued by NBA teams before. He's even been pursued by Michigan State boosters before, as Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert tried to hire him in 2010. But he's never been chased by one of his own former players at Michigan State. Mat Ishbia, a walk-on for Izzo's 2000 championship team, could appeal to him on a level that his persistent enemy, Gilbert, likely could not.

Izzo has given no indication that he is interested in coaching in the NBA, although we could reach here and note that he has attended a couple of Suns games this spring. (But let's just say that's a coach supporting a former player.) That said, Michigan State has been remarkably average by Izzo's standards over the past several years, and the college game is changing with the proliferation of NIL money and the transfer portal. Many of Izzo's old rivals have retired in recent years while expressing discomfort with the new world the sport occupies. If ever there was a time to chase Izzo, it's now. The odds of luring him away from the Spartans are still probably quite low, but Ishbia would surely pay whatever price it takes to get him. If nothing else, he could hold it over Gilbert's head forever.

Nick Nurse

This is the first candidates list of the 2021 carousel not to start with Nick Nurse. The leader of the 2019 NBA champion Toronto Raptors, Nurse is widely considered to be among the NBA's best tacticians. The Suns struggled to get stops in their loss to the Nuggets just as they struggled to slow down Luka Doncic and the Mavericks a season ago. Nurse is among the most creative defensive coaches in the NBA. His weaknesses as a half-court schemer on offense would be mitigated by the presence of Durant and Booker.

But competition for Nurse will be steep. It's also worth wondering why he didn't land in Houston after months of rumors suggesting that the he was a lock for the Rockets. Was he waiting for another job? Nurse belongs on every contender's list, but his plans, thus far, have remained a mystery.

Mike Budenholzer

Ironically, it could be argued that each of the 2021 finalists had the wrong head coach. The Bucks desperately needed a coach who could scheme a late-game offense to overcome Giannis Antetokounmpo's limitations as a half-court scorer. That describes Monty Williams to a tee. But the Suns? They don't have to worry about that. They have Durant and Booker to create points in the fourth quarter.

What the Suns do need is a coach who can get them high-value shots and scheme a reliable defense. That is Mike Budenholzer. The Suns ranked 17th in 3-point attempts and dead last in shots in the restricted area this season. Those are the shots Budenholzer built Milwaukee's offense around, and Ayton could be molded into an ideal fit for his drop-coverage scheme. Budenholzer has never been known as a brilliant adjuster in the postseason, but he's so good at building an overall structure that he still managed to win a championship in Milwaukee. He could do the same in Phoenix.

Frank Vogel

The last of the former championship coaches sitting on the open market, and the one that has thus far generated the least interest on the open market. Vogel is a defensive genius. He strikes the perfect balance between Nurse's creativity and Budenholzer's rigid devotion to specific schemes. He led the Pacers to multiple No. 1 defenses, won a title based on defense for the Lakers and then earned them the No. 1 defensive ranking a year later despite injuries to Anthony Davis and LeBron James.

Like Nurse, Vogel has struggled as a half-court coach on offense, but again, with Booker and Durant in place, that probably doesn't matter. The swing player here is Ayton. Vogel's championship came with the far more talented Davis up front, but Davis and Ayton have more in common than it might appear. Both were No. 1 overall picks that largely preferred not to do the sort of things on offense that centers do. Vogel found the right balance with Davis by allowing him to take jump shots and operate as a power forward for most of the game before forcing him to play as a true center in high-leverage moments. Might he be able to make a similar compromise with Ayton?

Kevin Young

In this story, we've covered four NBA champions, one collegiate champion ... and a 41-year-old assistant? Do not underestimate Young's place in this search. He is widely credited as the architect of Phoenix's devastating pick-and-roll offense, and if the Suns don't hire him, someone else is going to offer him a whole lot of money to come fix their offense instead.

Contenders have grown more comfortable hiring assistants in recent years. We can thank Nurse for that, and now, Darvin Ham has the Lakers eight wins away from the title in his first year in the top job. If nothing else, the Suns will interview Young for the sake of maintaining their relationship with him and hopefully keeping him on the staff for the next coach. If he can take advantage of that opportunity, though, the Suns will have the chance to hire one of the NBA's brightest young offensive minds from within their own building.