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Dan Bickley

Monty Williams will usher in new era of Phoenix Suns basketball

(AP Photo/Sharon Ellman)

Bad owners don’t change overnight. They don’t have guilt trips, epiphanies or competitive awakenings. Their only shot at redemption is lucking into a championship before it’s too late.

Will Robert Sarver be an exception?

After nine consecutive seasons without a playoff berth, his hiring of Monty Williams is one of the greatest harbingers we’ve had on Planet Orange in a long time. Williams is a head coach with actual experience. He’s endured unspeakable personal loss with unfathomable dignity. His elite reputation precedes him, and that’s a good thing in the NBA.

Williams will not let shenanigans slide. He won’t let young players take shortcuts or feign ignorance. He won’t be used as a speed bump. He’s already turned some heads, negotiating a five-year contract from Sarver, a commitment that gives real power to Williams’ voice.

But this isn’t about the latest head coach, a man who signed on after Sarver reportedly bared his soul in a Wednesday night meeting, owning to the follies of his past. That conversation might’ve lasted longer than the most recent Game of Thrones, with just as much carnage. But it was enough to convince Williams that a reviled, much-maligned owner is finally serious about stepping back in the name of progress.

Ryan McDonough heard some of the same things. Until he found goats in his office and wasn’t allowed to trade for a point guard.

So, we’ll see.

But this time feels different. While undoing much of McDonough’s work, Jones has clearly impressed Sarver. He has sold the owner on his ability to build a team and not just assemble a roster of talented pieces.

Jones has shown a deft touch in some areas and has seemed oblivious to others. He was given too much credit for acquiring in Kelly Oubre Jr. in the wake of a butchered three-team trade attempt. He wasn’t praised enough for showing up when Josh Jackson blew off a public appearance, buying beer for disgruntled fans.

Hiring Williams is the most promising acquisition yet. It proves that Jones can identify and reel in his No. 1 candidate. It proves he can talk a well-respected coaching candidate into working for Sarver, one of the most mentally-exhausting bosses in the NBA. It proves that the Suns owner believes in Jones enough to do things he’s never done before, notably sign off on a five-year contract to an experienced head coach, with the promise that he’ll recede further into the background.

Again. We’ll see.

The latter shouldn’t be a problem for a man as smart and successful as Sarver. But it is. It’s his competitive flaw and his blind spot. He needs to be the ultimate voice of authority and in control at all times, whether he’s trying to coach 7-footers in how to block out or advising medical professionals who certainly don’t need his advice.

The time is right for a new Sarver in Phoenix. He’s getting a refurbished arena and a new practice facility. Devin Booker is approaching the crossroads, and if the Suns don’t turn a competitive corner, it won’t be long before he wants out. Deandre Ayton badly needs a coach who can maximize his talents. The team could end up with the No. 1 pick draft. And the hiring of Williams opens a window into the free agency pursuit of Kevin Durant, a player who once again gushed over the Suns head coach on Friday.

Remember, Durant once listed us among his favorite NBA cities, saying “Phoenix is the one I love a lot. I like Phoenix (and the) Scottsdale area is dope.”

Chances are, he likes the Suns a lot better now that Williams is on board.

Same here. For reasons that extend well beyond the new head coach.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier