Suns pick Celtics assistant McDonough as new GM

PHOENIX — Much like the NBA prospects he’s been evaluating, Ryan McDonough will be making his own transition to the next level.

In this case, that transition is from assistant general manager to general manager.

Named Tuesday as the new talent judge for the Phoenix Suns, the 33-year-old McDonough will arrive with considerable fanfare among hardcore fans. Publicly praised by his last boss — Celtics GM (and former Suns coach) Danny Ainge — the son of Boston sports writing legend Will McDonough has been credited with considerable personnel-related input related to the Celtics’ on-court success.

“First and foremost, he comes from a winning and championship environment,” Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby said of the Suns’ new general manager during a Tuesday morning interview on KTAR 620.

As a strong voice in what is (relative to other teams) a player-evaluation staff of modest size, McDonough has been part of a Celtics organization that has reached two NBA Finals during his 10 seasons in Boston.

McDonough, who got his start in the business at age 23 and climbed the ladder quickly, has been associated with decisions that led the Celtics to drafting point guard Rajon Rondo, shooting guard Avery Bradley and power forward Jared Sullinger.

In a situation quite different than what he’ll encounter with the Suns, McDonough assisted Ainge in finding younger players – and affordable veterans — to fit around aging superstars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. With the core of the 2008 Boston championship team fading slowly, the Celtics usually find themselves picking in the latter stages of the NBA Draft’s first round.

Late next month, he could be the Suns’ loudest voice in choosing a player among the top four selections. In some ways, that can be trickier.

It should be noted that during McDonough’s time in Boston, the Celtics did use the fifth overall pick (2007) to land Georgetown forward Jeff Green and trade him to Seattle for Ray Allen.

But Joakim Noah was still on the board then, eventually going to Chicago with the ninth selection. Did McDonough greatly influence the Green pick and/or the deal for Allen that – coupled with the trade for Garnett – led to an immediate championship? Did he push for Noah instead?

Unless someone in Boston’s draft room offers such information, all we can do is speculate.

But in a few weeks, we’ll have our first clue regarding McDonough’s insights; and even more when that high pick suits up and begins his Suns career.

In addition to his player evaluation expertise, McDonough’s early introduction to the job will include helping sort out the Suns’ coaching situation. Babby has said that interim coach Lindsey Hunter remains a candidate to have the interim label removed, but the head coaching position has been on the back-burner while the front office concentrated on finding a replacement for fired general manager Lance Blanks.

Known as a tireless observer of prospects around the world (including those on every NBA team), McDonough also has the metrics-related chops to satisfy what Babby referred to as the Suns’ “summer of analytics.”

Unlike popular fan-encouraged GM choices such as Charles Barkley or Grant Hill, McDonough has seen prospects such as Kentucky freshman post player Nerlens Noel or Indiana junior guard Victor Oladipo in person. His due diligence in regard to the top prospects in this year’s draft should come in handy, considering Noel is injured and won’t be able to physically audition for talent evaluators. Also scheduled for shoulder surgery and out of pre-draft workouts is UNLV freshman forward Anthony Bennett, generally rated as a top-five pick in most mock drafts.

In addition to video study, McDonough doubtless has seen these prospects quite often over the last couple of seasons at least.

This comprehensive study also could serve the Suns when (barring a trade) they make a selection with the final pick (30th) of the first round.

Shortly after the draft concludes, McDonough’s attention will shift to the free-agent market, which the Suns will be entering with considerable financial flexibility.

But even though eyeball research and analytical evaluation could lead to roster upgrades for a team still among the league’s worst in its level of young talent, we’ll have to wait and see if McDonough has a feel for the intangibles.

Final decisions regarding a player’s character and desire to improve come under the purview of a team’s general manager and/or president.

Now that he’s moved up to No. 1 in that capacity, McDonough’s total evaluation ability will be easier for the rest of us to evaluate.