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Jones, Williams believe right people, mentality are in place to change Suns

Phoenix Suns new NBA basketball head coach Monty Williams, right, speaks as general manger James Jones listens during a news conference, Tuesday, May 21, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — Don’t get me wrong, Phoenix Suns general manager James Jones in his first year of that permanent job title and first-year head coach Monty Williams love to break down the Xs and Os of basketball.

But what’s clear the more the duo talk about what they want to accomplish in Phoenix is that they prioritize the mental and habitual side of the game more than anything else. That’s what first comes to their head.

And as a brief disclaimer, you yourself can decide if this is more of the glitz and glamour of media day, where anything is possible and the optimism is overflowing, or that there is actual change happening within the organization.

When Jones was asked Monday about what he wants to see from second-year center Deandre Ayton, he didn’t mention shooting three-pointers, protecting the rim or embracing the physical side of his position.

“Consistency in approach, consistency in effort, but more importantly, how he responds to the challenges,” Jones said. “As long as he comes in here every day and continues to work on his body and mind and takes the challenge to lead by example, that’s enough growth for me.”

That might come across as gibberish for some but take a quick left with me here for a minute on a detour.

The Suns’ roster is constructed in a way where there is a competitive balance of young and old at each position.

Ayton will get pulverized by Aron Baynes in practice. Cam Johnson will have to try and get by Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mikal Bridges. Ty Jerome and the younger point guards will learn the intricacies of running an offense from Ricky Rubio. They will get bullied in practice defensively, like Elie Okobo did last year, by Devin Booker.

Naturally, you assume these players will get the most out of each other and grow because of that dynamic.

But when guard Tyler Johnson had that point brought up to him, he explained that’s not exactly how it works.

“It’s individual,” he said. “You can go through a whole season and you can be in la-la land and you might not learn anything if you don’t put your mind to it.

“But if you come in with an approach that, ‘Hey, I’m gonna compete and I’m gonna learn,’ and then when you really give it your all and then someone beats you, you’re like, ‘OK, now I understand why this person is good because I gave them every look that I could possibly give them and they were able to hit me with this and now it’s like OK now I can start adding to my game.'”

Yes, you are right in taking that quote and immediately thinking about the failures of Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss and Josh Jackson.

Anyway, the proper mindset Johnson mentions is what Jones wants to bring out of everyone, and Williams is the type of coach to do that.

When you ask Johnson about Williams potentially achieving that with his stern and authoritative style of coaching, the necessity of that actually doesn’t compute at first for Johnson.

“It’s weird because for me that’s how I made my mark was going balls to the wall all the time … so for me it’s one of those things that just makes sense,” he said. “But then you remember that there are guys who are crazy talented who maybe don’t have that same drive.

“I think that we have a good mix of guys who are going to make sure everybody knows that’s not how it’s flying out here.”

That goes back to Jones saying he wants to find the “right people” he’s drafting, signing and trading for. It sounds cliche but that’s what it comes down to for him so he can make proclamations like this:

“We have a good mix of people,” he said. “We can put the playing aside, but we have some really good people. And when you can put a bunch of good guys together in a room and ask them to work together to kind of turn this thing around — you’ll see what we see on a daily basis which is an enthusiasm.

“And I think that’s the foundation for growth and so as we continue to move forward together, we’ll have fun, and when we have fun, you have success and success is what we’re chasing.”

To simplify that, as Rubio delicately puts it, “The big picture is made for little details.”

That’s why Jones specifically focused on drafting established players like Cam Johnson and Jerome at the college level and acquiring established NBA players like Baynes and Rubio. The personal traits those four players posses have just as much to do with their basketball traits as to why they are now in purple and orange.

“Even our young players are guys that know the game and are high-IQ players, have been well-coached and are ready to work,” Booker said.

Jones and Williams already have the work well underway, even though training camp doesn’t start until Tuesday.

“We’ve spent a lot of time this summer promoting our values, establishing our culture that we want to continue to build and our players have adapted to it smoothly,” Williams said. “It’s hard but they’ve done a good job of adapting.”

The big fella and last year’s No. 1 pick already sees and feels the change.

“When you walk in the building, it’s a different type of energy,” Ayton said. “Walking in that gym and that locker room and just seeing nobody in there, but they in the weight room already, and it’s like seven o’clock already! Kinda thinking, ‘I’m late!'”

It’s up to you to decide if this the glow of media day talking when Ayton described it as a night and day difference compared to last season.

“More fluid,” he said. “It’s a way better flow.”

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