Happy to be home: Armed with championship on resume, Budenholzer excited to guide Suns

The Phoenix Suns introduced their new head coach Friday at Footprint Center, where the team hopes a future NBA championship can be won under the guidance of Mike Budenholzer. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – It was an emotional Friday afternoon for new Phoenix Suns coach Mike Budenholzer.

The Holbrook native returned to his home state and received a special welcome. Budenholzer’s 94-year-old father, Vince Budenholzer, was in attendance to watch his son be introduced by legendary Suns broadcaster Al McCoy as the 22nd head coach in the organization’s history.

Budenholzer, 53, played for his father at Holbrook High School. He also rooted for the Suns growing up, watching legends such as the late Paul Westphal, and listening to McCoy call the game, all of which made the day even more memorable.

“I would coach this team if it was on the moon,” Budenholzer said. “I would coach this team if it was in Alaska, if these players were in Denmark … I would go anywhere to coach this team. I’m excited about the roster, I’m excited about everything.”

Budenholzer wasn’t brought in because of the Arizona ties but because of his ability to coach at the highest level, with a resume that shows it.

Over his time in the NBA, Budenholzer has a .604 career winning percentage, winning 484 games in that span. He is a two-time NBA Coach of the Year winner in 2015 and 2019. But most importantly, he brought Milwaukee its third NBA championship, ending a 50-year title drought for the organization.

The Suns face a similar drought to Milwaukee, although they aren’t looking to win another championship, but rather their first one in the franchise’s 55-year history.

Phoenix Suns general manager James Jones knows what the franchise is after. The last season came with much disappointment after he helped assemble a roster that included Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal.

The group never jelled, finishing with a 49-33 record before getting swept by Minnesota in the first round of the playoffs. It led to the dismissal of coach Frank Vogel after just one season.

“We feel like, as a coach and as management and players, you want to have a chance to compete for championships, and that is what we have here in Phoenix,” Budenholzer said. “That’s what I’m excited about is competing for championships.”

The 2021 championship for Budenholzer and the Bucks came over a Phoenix Suns team that looks far different from today. Notable players such as Deandre Ayton, Chris Paul, Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and Cam Payne have all been traded. In fact, the only Suns player left from that group is Devin Booker.

“I’m excited about working with this roster and these players,” Budenholzer said. “We have great players and with great players come great expectations. I think to embrace that and understand how important it is what we are doing everyday. How are we getting better everyday? I think that will put us in a position to realize our potential.”

While much of the Suns roster next year is still to be determined, it will unquestionably be headlined by the big three of Booker, Durant and Beal. Budenholzer is no stranger to working with superstars, having coached and been around Tim Duncan, David Robinson and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“The most important thing with all the great players, but to be honest with you with every player on our roster, is to build a relationship with them,” Budenholzer said. “Show them you care about them genuinely, that you care about their feelings, you care about things that go on in their life, and you care about making them the best basketball player they can become. I think the great ones want to get better, they aren’t happy with where they are, they want to get better.”

The Suns as a whole were definitely not happy with where they were at the end of this season. Although the star power and the roster seemed to be all put together, there was still something missing.

Budenholzer and Jones share a similar philosophy about the game, playing fast and pressing. But most importantly in the coaching search, Jones saw something else in Budenholzer that stood out.

“We moved quickly to Bud just because when you look at our roster and what our roster needs, he fits it,” Jones said. “I’m a competitive guy. We talked about this throughout the process. Bud must have said ‘compete’ 95 times in two minutes. But compete at everything, compete in practice, compete with each other, against each other. Compete against your opponent, but more importantly, compete with yourself. And I thought that was an area of a team that needed to be better.”

The addition of Budenholzer is a move Jones is hoping will bring a new side to a team and city that has long awaited an NBA championship.

“Talking about championships is kind of meaningless,” Budenholzer said. “At the end of the day, talk is cheap, what you do everyday is powerful. And so as I talk to our players, I talk to our ownership, our front office, everybody, what are we doing everyday to be our best? That is what it’s gonna take to win championships in Phoenix.”