Suns Announce Basketball Operations Staff Changes

Nate Bjorkgren joins the Suns coaching staff after serving as the head coach for Phoenix's D-League affiliate, the Bakersfield Jam.
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The Phoenix Suns today announced changes to the club’s coaching staff, adding Nate Bjorkgren (pronounced BEE-ork-Gren) as assistant coach/player development coordinator, Earl Watson as assistant coach and Jason Fraser as player development assistant, in addition to announcing the promotion of Corey Gaines to assistant coach and the return of Mark West to the front office as vice president of player relations. The team has also promoted Bubba Burrage to director of player personnel, which he will serve in addition to being general manager of the Bakersfield Jam, added Courtney Witte (pronounced Witty) as director of scouting and Antonio Williams as scout.

“We’re excited to add Nate, Earl and Jason to our staff; they each fit our culture and bring unique experience that will help our players and our team improve every day,” said Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek. “It will also benefit us to have Corey and Mark continue to provide their insights and expertise in their new positions.”

At NBA Summer League in Las Vegas earlier this month Bjorkgren served as head coach for the Suns’ entry with Gaines, Watson and Fraser also on the coaching staff. Under their direction, the Suns went 5-2 and claimed a runner-up finish after advancing to the NBA Summer League 2015 Championship game.

Bjorkgren joins the Suns after one season as the head coach for the Suns’ D-League affiliate, the Bakersfield Jam. Bjorkgren led the Jam to a 34-16 record and Western Conference Semifinals appearance this past season, also winning the inaugural Showcase Cup Championship. During his time in Bakersfield he coached several Suns players, in addition to serving as a member of the Suns’ coaching staff at NBA Summer League 2014 in Las Vegas and training camp prior to the start of the 2014-15 season.

An experienced head coach in the D-League, Bjorkgren amassed a 92-58 record at the helm of the Dakota Wizards, Santa Cruz Warriors and Iowa Energy prior to joining the Jam. Totaling a 126-74 (.630) record overall as a D-League head coach, he led the Energy to the Central Division title in 2013-14 and the Warriors to the 2012-13 NBA D-League Finals. Before becoming the head coach of the Wizards in 2011-12, Bjorkgren spent four seasons as an assistant coach with the Energy from 2007-11.           

 jorkgren returns to Arizona where early in his coaching career he served as the head coach of Cactus Shadows High School in Cave Creek for three seasons from 2004-07. The recipient of Arizona state high school coach of the year honors in 2005-06 and regional coach of the year honors in 2004-05 and 2005-06, Bjorkgren led the Falcons to the Class 4A state tournament in each of his three seasons with the school.

A native of Storm Lake, Iowa, Bjorkgren played collegiately at Buena Vista University and the University of South Dakota. As a point guard at Buena Vista, he led the Beavers to their first conference title in 21 years in 1997.

Following a 13-year NBA career as a player, Watson comes to the Suns after spending last season as an assistant coach for the NBA Development League’s Austin Spurs. Last playing for the Portland Trail Blazers in 2013-14, Watson saw action in 878 career games with the Seattle SuperSonics/Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies, Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers and Utah Jazz, before concluding his playing career as a Trail Blazer. Watson averaged 6.4 points, 4.4 assists and 1.0 steals for his career, posting highs of 10.7 points and 6.8 assists in 78 games (73 starts) with the SuperSonics in 2007-08.

Initially selected in the second round (40th overall) of the 2001 NBA Draft by Seattle, Watson played for three NBA Coach of the Year Award winners throughout his 13-year career (Hubie Brown, George Karl, Scott Brooks), as well as Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan. During Watson’s three seasons with the Jazz from 2010-13, Hornacek served first as shooting coach then as an assistant coach for the team.

Prior to his NBA career, the Kansas City, Kan. native was a four-year starter at UCLA, helping guide the Bruins to three Sweet 16 appearances and earning All-Pac-10 First Team honors in 2000-01.

Fraser joins the Suns after most recently working as an assistant coach for the D-League’s Austin Spurs alongside Watson. Prior to helping Austin to a Southwest Division title in his one season with the club, Fraser spent the 2013-14 season as director of student-athlete development at his alma mater, Villanova.

Initially arriving at Villanova after being named a 2002 McDonald’s All-American, Fraser was a standout center for four seasons from 2002-06, leaving the school ranked fifth on the all-time blocked shots list (172) and 22nd on the all-time rebounding list (637). As a junior in 2004-05, Fraser helped the Wildcats to their first Sweet 16 appearance since 1988, then as a senior in 2005-06 contributed to Villanova’s Big East regular season championship and Elite Eight run in the NCAA tournament.

After his collegiate career, Fraser played professionally overseas and for the Harlem Globetrotters before returning to Villanova. Fraser is a native of Amityville, N.Y.

Following five seasons as a player development coach with the Suns, Gaines is promoted to assistant coach. In addition to his tenure with the Suns that dates back to the 2010-11 season, Gaines coached eight years (2006-13) with the Phoenix Mercury, the first two as an assistant to Paul Westhead before taking the reins as head coach in 2008. His time with the Mercury featured the first two WNBA titles in franchise history in 2007 and 2009.

A 28-year veteran of the up-tempo, fast-break style that he first honed as a point guard for Westhead at Loyola Marymount from 1986-88, Gaines played for four different teams over a five-year NBA career. Originally selected by Seattle in the third round (65th overall) of the 1988 NBA Draft, Gaines played with the New Jersey Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks throughout his career, earning a trip to the 1994 NBA Finals as a member of the Knicks.

West will return to the front office as vice president of player relations, a new position that will make him responsible for life skills development in addition to continuing to work as directed by Hornacek on basketball skills development. A mainstay with the Suns for 22 years, West played eight seasons with the club, spent 12 in the front office, the last two as an assistant coach and now returns to the front office.

Originally acquired along with Kevin Johnson from the Cleveland Cavaliers on Feb. 25, 1988, West played in 543 games with the Suns where he posted averages of 6.9 points and 6.0 rebounds, and remains the team’s all-time leader in field goal percentage, making 61.3 percent of his field goals in purple and orange. He played in 1,090 games overall in his 17-year NBA career with averages of 5.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks.

West first joined the Suns’ executive staff as assistant general manager in 2001, and served as the team’s vice president of player programs from 2006-13, responsible for player relations and development, business of basketball training and community representation.

Burrage is promoted to director of player personnel after spending the past four seasons as the Suns’ head pro personnel scout. Last season also marked Burrage’s first as general manager of the Jam as the D-League team began a single-affiliation partnership with Phoenix, a role he will continue to fulfill in addition to being director of player personnel with the Suns. With Burrage at the helm, the Jam went 34-16 and advanced to the Western Conference Semifinals.

With 22 years of experience in the NBA, Burrage has held positions in scouting, coaching, video and the front office. Prior to joining the Suns, Burrage spent 15 seasons with the Sacramento Kings in several positions, including five as an assistant coach. A native of Oxnard, Calif., Burrage graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo where he was a starting forward for the Mustangs.

Witte joins the Suns after one season as a pro personnel scout with the Los Angeles Clippers. Prior to working with the Clippers, Witte spent 14 seasons with the 76ers, serving as director of player personnel for his final 11 seasons with the team. With 26 seasons overall in the NBA, the first 11 with the Indiana Pacers, Witte brings a keen eye for basketball talent to the Suns organization.

A native of Vincennes, Ind., Witte played collegiately at Indiana for Head Coach Bob Knight from 1983-86, having the distinction of being his first junior college recruit. The Hoosiers made the NCAA tournament in both of the two seasons in which Witte played as he saw action in Indiana’s notable victory over top-ranked North Carolina in 1984. 

Williams joins the Suns after most recently working in sports business development at Personal Management Consultants in Newport Beach, Calif. Williams also brings experience as a college basketball field representative for Nike and as a basketball recruiting analyst for ESPN.com.    

A graduate of Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., Williams played two seasons of basketball for the Judges and was a co-captain from 2000-02.  

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