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Phoenix Suns enthusiastic heading into new NBA season

Phoenix Suns’, head coach Monty Williams, middle, chats with, guard, Devin Booker during their training camp, Wednesday, October 2, 2019, in Flagstaff, Ariz. (Photo by Karrissa D. Herrera/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – When Phoenix Suns Media Day began at Talking Stick Resort Arena, general manager James Jones wasn’t interested in talking about the past.

Last season, the Suns finished with a 19-63 record under coach Igor Kokoskov, their worst winning percentage since their inaugural season in 1968. When asked if there was anything he learned from that first season as an NBA executive, Jones focused on the future.

“I have decided that I need to focus on incremental improvement and creating an environment that makes growth organic, surrounding myself with good people and bringing good people into the organization,” Jones said in front of gathered media on Sept. 30. “What I did learn is that you need a really good coach. I am just happy that we got one.”

The Suns fired Kokoskov after one season. New head coach Monty Williams has only been aboard for four months, but Jones said he already senses an increased enthusiasm within the organization. The roster additions through free agency and the NBA Draft have only served to augment that enthusiasm.

“It was a low season last year for us, so I think everybody basically threw that literally out the window,” center Deandre Ayton said. “This is such a new chapter to where when you walk in the building, it is a different type of energy.”

Jones said he used the offseason to create an environment conducive for growth with a young team – one with just two players older than 27 – and an atmosphere where players wanted to play. He believes that he accomplished those goals.

In the offseason, the Suns acquired Ricky Rubio, Dario Saric, Aron Baynes, Frank Kaminsky, Jevon Carter and Cheick Diallo and, then, selected forward Cameron Johnson from North Carolina and guard Ty Jerome from Virginia in the NBA Draft.

With forward Kelly Oubre Jr. re-signed, Phoenix has just five other players from last season in Devin Booker, Tyler Johnson, Mikal Bridges, Elie Okobo and Ayton.

“I know our coaches and our players, they have been here all summer and they are excited to be a part of this and to be a part of something new,” Jones said. “As we move forward this year with excitement, we hope to continue to build an environment where guys will come in every day and improve every day and in every practice and game. Hopefully at the end of this, we will see ourselves as a better team.

“It is just an opportunity for us to show what we are really about and that is bringing joy and excitement back to Phoenix Suns basketball.”

Although the Suns haven’t played a game, Jones and Williams each pointed to the improved roster and depth, saying Phoenix has a “3-by-5” as in three quality players at all five positions on the court.

Williams said he intends to play an enjoyable, fast-paced style of basketball but the key will be efficiency. With the versatility on the roster, he said that any guard or forward can push the ball while Rubio runs the halfcourt offense.

With Williams, the offensive mindset revolves around defense and effort, which he said he will make things less difficult. He wants the team to incorporate a hard-working mentality in games because he said that is something for which an opponent can’t game plan.

“I want to be able to get out of the way,” Williams said. “If you want freedom on offense, get a stop. Because if you get a stop, I don’t have to call plays. We can just go.”

Last season, Booker had a successful individual season, averaging 26.6 points, 6.8 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game. With the changes, he has greater aspirations.

“I think that we have a team that even our young players are guys that know the game and are high-IQ players who have been well-coached and are ready to work,” he said. “I think we have NBA guys that know what they are in this NBA and that know how to make it to the next level and that is making a playoff push.”

Making the playoffs in the Western Conference won’t be easy, given the offseason movement. Anthony Davis joined LeBron James with the Los Angeles Lakers; Russell Westbrook went to the Houston Rockets; and Kawhi Leonard and Paul George joined the Los Angeles Clippers.

Jones admitted qualifying for the playoffs would be a challenge, but he said this season is mainly about consistency, growth and the little things that will breed success. Despite the struggles of recent seasons, Jones believes that Phoenix has players who are motivated to change the culture.

“We don’t really have a history,” Jones said. “We are fresh, so we are trying to embrace the legacy of the Suns as a franchise, an historic franchise with a lot of pride [that] has experienced a lot of success.”

Rather than looking backward, Jones said everyone has a focus toward the future as the preseason starts Tuesday and the regular season tips off on Oct. 23 against the Sacramento Kings at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

“We will have a lot of fun this year and we will continue to separate ourselves from the past,” Jones said.