The Phoenix Suns concluded I guess what could be called a coaching search Tuesday by naming Earl Watson as their next bench boss, rewarding the 36-year-old with a three-year contract.
Should we have expected anything else?
Maybe not in the final result, but at least in the process.
Just six days after wrapping up the second-worst season in the franchise’s 48-year history, the Suns handed the car keys to a coach with 33 games of interim experience.
There are several experienced head coaches available for hire this offseason. There are others with impressive assistant coaching resumes or college experience. The Suns didn’t interview any of them. Instead, the team — to use general manager Ryan McDonough’s own words — gathered information on candidates during Watson’s two-and-a-half-month stint as interim head coach and had a few “robust internal debates” before coming to the conclusion that Watson was the man for the organization.
I do believe Watson has what it takes to eventually become a successful head coach in the NBA. That could happen right here in Phoenix. He very well could be “the guy.”
But considering that you’re pressing your face against the glass watching the party known as the NBA Playoffs for the sixth straight season, don’t you conduct at least one interview? Don’t you take a week or two to further survey the landscape now that the college season is over and the playoffs are underway? Don’t you owe that to your fan base — a group that has never experienced a postseason drought this long?
Suns players were reportedly unanimous in their support of Watson. That’s great, but how many of those players will be here for the next three years? More to the point — how many of them should be?
Supporters of this hire will point out that the Suns were “more competitive” after Watson took over for the fired Jeff Hornacek in February. That’s debatable. Phoenix went 4-13 against playoff teams under Watson — and one of those wins came against a Clippers team that didn’t bring any of their key players to the arena. The Suns were only 5-11 against fellow postseason spectators. Four losses in their last 33 games came by 30 or more points.
I know the Suns were injured. One can’t refute that was a big hurdle for them the entire season — yes, even when Hornacek was patrolling the sideline. Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and T.J. Warren didn’t play in Hornacek’s last game as coach — an ugly 91-78 road loss against Dallas.
People are quick to say we can’t judge Watson on his win-loss record, yet Hornacek lost a job based on his, with a similar injury situation and the Markieff Morris cloud hanging over his head. Watson didn’t have to deal with that for long.
The narrative that the Suns were more competitive under Watson must have been based solely on the eye test. Watson’s team had a lower winning percentage (.273) and lost by a wider margin (13.9) than Hornacek’s team that had a winning percentage of .286 and lost by an average margin of 12.9 points.
The truth is, this announcement followed a long-established Suns tradition of not making splashy head-coaching hires. Phoenix has hired three coaches with prior full-time NBA head coaching experience. They’ve retained four interim coaches, a group that now includes Watson.
Admittedly, splash isn’t a necessary ingredient in achieving long-term success. The Valley has never seen a splashier hire than when the Cardinals introduced Buddy Ryan as their head coach in 1994. His faceplant was so profound, it left a dent in the parking lot asphalt at Sun Devil Stadium.
But for a group of fans starving for a return to relevance, a little splash in the process may have been in order.