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GM James Jones: Monty Williams brings ‘robust’ skillset to Suns

Assistant coach Monty Williams of the Philadelphia 76ers looks on against the Brooklyn Nets in Game Two of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at the Wells Fargo Center on April 15, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Suns accomplished what they meant to. Give them credit for that. Monty Williams is their new head coach as of Friday, and according to reports, he was a top target the entire way.

That in itself is a win for newly-appointed general manager James Jones and senior VP of basketball operations Jeff Bower. They brought in a former NBA head coach with a decade of playing experience, exposure to a variety of coaching styles as player and assistant, and even a stint in the front office on his resume.

“I just think he has a robust skillset, a robust perspective,” Jones told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. 

“I would say Monty is diligent. What I mean is he’s a guy that believes in work. He also understands that through work you have mistakes and that players grow just like coaches have to grow. He’s open to that. He has an open mindset. I appreciate that because sometimes if you get coaches who were ex-players or come up a certain way, they’re kind of stuck. He’s not that type of guy. He’s been refreshing to me in how wide open he’s been.”

Williams, who will finish the season as an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers before joining Phoenix, has five years of head coaching experience with New Orleans and additional assistant coaching stints in Portland, New Orleans and Oklahoma City. He went 173-221 (.439) as New Orleans head coach from 2010-15, making the playoffs twice and losing in the first round both times.

Throughout his career, he’s rubbed shoulders with greats.

He entered the NBA as a rookie in 1994 with the Patrick Ewing-led Knicks, then just a year later found himself on the pre-Gregg Popovich Spurs, whose roster touted David Robinson. Williams was a teammate of Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady on the early-2000s Magic squads before wrapping his career playing with Allen Iverson’s 2002-03 Philadelphia team.

Since entering the coaching ranks in 2005, he’s managed personalities and games of stars like LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy, Chris Paul, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler.

“He’s not only been a very good player who’s been around some great organizations, he’s had the opportunity to impact the growth and development of some of the NBA’s stars today and some who have cycled out of the league,” Jones said. “I just think he has a wide skillset to allow us to grow our young guys.”

All those experiences were likely sticking points for the Suns executives, who believe Williams can command a locker room that includes potential stars like Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton.

“He’s a very even-keeled but passionate coach. If guys need someone to press them, he’ll press them. If they need someone to kind of take them aside and talk to them quietly, he will,” Jones said. “He’s a people person and he understands the individual and he understands the player.”

In the interview process, Williams sold his ability to push young players, especially Ayton, who shined brightest as a rookie in 2018-19 when challenged with a key matchup or as the offensive focal point for Phoenix’s own gameplan.

Jones said Williams will not treat Ayton “with kid gloves. He’s going to really get after him. That’s DA’s zone. He craves that. He craves that push, he craves that stress. He’s a player that performs best in those competitive situations.

“So it was really simple: Monty said, ‘I want to make everything competitive.'”

From a wider angle, Williams has experience pulling New Orleans out of a rebuild, developing Davis on the way. His previous relationship with Phoenix’s two key free agent voices gave him, at least, a headstart.

Williams coached Jones in 2007-08 with Portland and was initially hired in 2010 by then-New Orleans GM Bower.

“I tried to make sure this wasn’t something that was driven by personal connections or emotions,” Jones said. “I wanted to evaluate the landscape and see who was best for this team at this time. And that happened to be Monty.”

Phoenix also reportedly met with Trail Blazers assistants Nate Tibbetts and Dave Vanterpool in the process.

As for his own fit in Phoenix, Williams told Jones he felt the time was right to get back into the head-coaching chair, and the GM admitted the Suns did some selling of their situation in the interview process.

“(Williams asked) just how committed we were to building championship habits and doing the things necessary and doing the things that contribute to winning. Were we committed to the coach, were we committed to our players?” Jones said. “I emphatically told him that was true, and it started with him and it also started with some of the partnerships we recently forged. I think that demonstrates we’re going a different direction.”

Suns sold Williams on healthy relationship with ownership, front office

Of course, the Suns welcoming the fifth coach in the last five years added to the image problems across the NBA.

Doug & Wolf asked Jones how the team assured Williams he would have a chance to succeed without micromanaging from his higher-ups.

“Monty’s going to be able to coach this team. That’s what he asked for: He asked for the ability to coach this team, coach them hard and to be who he is,” Jones said. “I love the autonomy word, people love the phrase autonomy but it’s a team. When you’re part of the team, you make decisions together that help put the team in the best position.

“He’ll definitely be able to coach. He’ll have a huge voice, a tremendous voice in everything we do, but we’re not trying to leave anyone on an island. We’ll support each other.”

As for how that involves owner Robert Sarver, who according to an ESPN story this year has wedged himself into coaching affairs in the past, Jones said his owner has grown.

“Robert isn’t the Robert from 10 years ago,” the GM said. “One thing about Monty, Monty actually wants Robert around. He wants him involved. Robert isn’t in practices. He’s at games, he’s supportive. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to help the coach, to help the franchise move forward.

“He’s grown tremendously. I don’t think anyone can say Robert is the same Robert from five years ago.”

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