Published January 13, 2015
Ryan McDonough measured the questions, addressed each reporter by name, then delivered concise, thoughtful answers about his vision for the Phoenix Suns.
When he went to answer the final question, one about his two brothers sitting in the audience, McDonough struggled to get the words out, emotion cracking his voice, causing him to pause.
"I saw George Karl do this last night when he talked about his family," McDonough said Thursday during his introductory news conference as general manager of the Suns. "He's coach of the year, he's a Hall of Famer, so hopefully you guys can give me a little rope here."
What McDonough has immediately in front of him are the reins of a franchise in need of better direction.
A rising star among NBA executives and a member of a successful Boston sports family, the 33-year-old McDonough was hired on Tuesday to replace Lance Blanks, another former star-in-the-making who failed to lead the Suns to the playoffs in three seasons.
McDonough comes to Planet Orange with an impeccable record and a tireless work ethic that took him from a 23-year-old in the Boston Celtics video room to becoming Danny Ainge's right-hand man as assistant general manager.
"He's prepared, I think his whole life, for this opportunity," Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby said. "His work ethic is prodigious and well known throughout the NBA."
McDonough has a lot of work ahead of him, starting with finding a new head coach.
Lindsey Hunter became the interim coach when Alvin Gentry was let go in January and is still in the mix, but has interviewed with other organizations, including Detroit, where he played 12 seasons over two stints.
Befitting his meticulous approach, McDonough has already identified a list of coaching candidates and cross-referenced his with the coaches Babby, owner Robert Sarver and the rest of the front office have their eye on.
"I'm going to spearhead that process and the process has already begun," McDonough said. "That was part of the interview with Robert and Lon. We discussed potential coaching candidates who we thought would be good fits and we were in alignment on most of the names."
He also must fill out the rest of his staff in the front office.
One of the top requirements will be versatility.
McDonough made his way through the Celtics organization as a talent evaluator, spending one season as director of amateur scouting, another as director of international scouting and two as director of player personnel. He was assistant general manager in 2010 and was primarily responsible for draft evaluations of college and international players.
Babby joked that McDonough has seen every basketball player in the world in person and the new GM wants to surround himself with people who have a similar know-everyone background.
"I don't want specialists, meaning I don't want guys who just scout college, just scout the pros, just scout the D-league, the international," McDonough said. "What I generally prefer is a smaller model with guys who are master evaluators who know all the players, who can compare a guy who just got bought out in Europe to a guy who developed in the D-league to an NBA free agent. I want all my top guys to be able to do that and tell me who is the best player."
McDonough's attention to detail was what helped him rise through Boston's organization and what landed him the job in Phoenix.
He has a strong background on the analytical side of basketball, an emphasis for the Suns this offseason, and aced his interview, which included a questionnaire and more than 15 hours in person with Sarver and Babby.
"I sent out questions before the interview and he came in with college essays," Babby said.
Success runs in McDonough's family.
His father, Will, was a sports columnist for the Boston Globe for 41 years before he died of a heart attack in 2003.
McDonough's brother Sean works for ABC/ESPN and was the Boston Red Sox TV announcer when they won the World Series in 2004.
Their brother Terry won a Super Bowl with the NFL's Baltimore Ravens in 2001 and was the Jacksonville Jaguars director of player personnel the past four years before being released after the 2012 season.
With his brothers sitting in the third row during his news conference, Ryan was able to run down what he learned from Sean — how to talk to reporters and keep his poise — but became more emotional as he continued to talk.
"It's special for them to be here," McDonough said before turning toward the reporter who asked the question. "I don't know whether to thank you or yell at you for asking that question."