Suns coach Watson: Improvement will come, ‘we’re so close’

Apr 4, 2017, 2:51 PM
Phoenix Suns head coach Earl Watson gestures to players during a training session the day before th...
Phoenix Suns head coach Earl Watson gestures to players during a training session the day before their game against the Dallas Mavericks, at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
LISTEN: Earl Watson, Suns head coach

Earl Watson understands that the Phoenix Suns are falling these days.

The head coach, wrapping up his first full season in charge, said the important thing is making sure they fall forward.

Though losers of 12 straight games, Watson said that is happening with the development of young players like Devin Booker, Tyler Ulis, Marquese Chriss and Alex Len as evidence that while things don’t seem good now, the future will be much brighter.

“And we’re so close,” he told Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Tuesday morning. “We are one summer away from saying ‘remember when?'”

The key, Watson said, is making sure the players continue to build and see the bigger picture, moving forward despite the negative results. He compared it to stops he had as a player, where teams went from 20 or so wins to totals in the 50s.

“You’re so close, it’s the right people, in the right positions moving forward,” he said.

Yet, while Watson is confident in the Suns’ future, the present is still a tough pill to swallow. He said he hates losing more than he loves winning, and this season the Suns have done plenty of the former.

With four games left, the Suns are 22-56, which is the second-worst record in the NBA. It’s not entirely unexpected, with the team having shut down key veterans and seemingly sacrificed competitiveness in an effort to give young players experience and, maybe, improve the team’s draft positioning.

“It’s tough because on my personal record, it says ‘L’ — it’s like a column of Ls right now,” Watson said. But, the coach added his upbringing, which involved growing up in a “losing situation,” helped mold him into the type of person who can get through this.

“It comes back into play now; it’s no quit, there’s no losing, there’s no pointing the fingers,” he said. “We have to find a way, no matter what our availability is, and we have to get better, we have to improve and it’s a lot of passion behind it.”

Given the ages of the team’s young core players — T.J. Warren and Len are 23, Ulis is 21, Booker is 20 and Chriss and Dragan Bender, the fourth overall pick in the 2016 draft, are both just 19 years old — improvement should come.

Summed up, Watson said this is a challenge, and it’s up to him and the team to get through it. And about his confidence that they will, ultimately, come out of in good shape, the coach has his reasons.

Building on that starts with whatever player the team will choose with its high draft pick, though that player, Watson said, will have to be someone who is willing and able to do many things, not just score. Rebounding, passing, playing defense, shooting from the outside — all are desired.

“Because what you’re starting to see is Devin Booker can now have the ball in his hands and make decisions as well, so it gives you creativity and versatility with your lineup,” Watson said. “We also know moving forward with the veterans we have, that has to make sense with the timeline.

“We have to bridge the gap between young and middle-age, or we have to completely go young; it cannot be that space in between with age. Bridge it somehow, either it’s through a trade or some free agency options. You have to bridge that age group.”

The idea, he continued, was that by the time that age group declines, the team’s younger players will be ready to truly take over.

“Eventually that age group would decline as our young guys become middle-vets, and that cycle is the perfect time to go through the strike for championships or whatever you want to do,” he said.

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