Suns head coach Igor Kokoskov obviously knows the Jazz well, after all, he was an assistant coach for the team from 2015 to 2018. With that comes a respect for his past coworkers, including Quin Snyder — the two even coached together at the University of Missouri starting in 1999.
But it was still somewhat unexpected to hear Kokoskov begin his pregame press conference on Wednesday evening by talking for at length about how good the Jazz are, and just how deep he expects them to go into the playoffs.
“I believe that this is team is built to go to the end of May, maybe June. It reminds me in a lot of different aspects of the 2004 Detroit Pistons. They have to stay healthy. We were healthy in 2004,” Kokoskov said. He was an assistant with the Pistons from 2003 to 2008.
“The other teams in the West — I’m not saying they fear the Utah Jazz, but they don’t want to play them,” Kokoskov continued. “They know their strengths and they could easily match up with Golden State, Houston, Denver, all of those teams. It’s not just because I have a lot of friends there, people I care about. I strongly believe that they have a chance to go all the way to the end of May, and they’ve built this team to win today.”
The end of May would mean a trip to the Western Conference Finals for the Jazz, which are currently scheduled to begin on either May 14th or 15th. The NBA Finals are slated to start on May 30th. Getting to the Conference Finals would mean upsetting a higher seed at least once, and most likely twice: The Jazz are currently in the fifth seed.
Why is Kokoskov so high on the Jazz’s postseason chances?
“We have a lot of respect for this group. They play well, they play together, they play as a unit. The strength of this team is the team. They understand who they are. They’re extremely well coached. They play for each other, they’re willing to sacrifice for each other,” Kokoskov said.
Kokoskov and Ricky Rubio
Kokoskov was also the assistant coach on Snyder’s staff that Ricky Rubio worked most closely with, and the two developed a close relationship. How close? Well, close enough that Kokoskov felt comfortable leading off his answer about Rubio with a joke:
“I have an internal joke with Ricky. It’s that he’s a better person and a worse player than I thought,” Kokoskov said.
But Kokoskov does have a lot of respect for Rubio’s game.
“He’s all about winning. You have to think that he started playing professional basketball at the age of 16. He is what LeBron James was to American basketball, that’s what he was to international basketball," Kokoskov said. "The time spent with him was a great experience. He’s an extremely, extremely good player, and a special person. I’m happy for him, and you can feel his leadership.”