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Monty Williams seeing internal understanding, growth Suns need

Head coach Monty Williams of the Phoenix Suns talks with Devin Booker #1 during the second half of the NBA game against the Orlando Magic at Talking Stick Resort Arena on January 10, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Magic 98-94. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Of all the problems for the Phoenix Suns in the last four years where they’ve averaged 22 wins a season, the top of the list that combines some together is a lack of continuity.

Whether that’s draft picks not working out, hiring the wrong staff or unexpected roster movement, it has not been there at all.

With the Suns hiring Monty Williams as the head coach — a high-profile name they committed to with a five-year deal — and placing James Jones in the permanent general manager’s spot during the same offseason, this seemed to be the shift in order to establish the foundation.

But they’ve been here before with Ryan McDonough, Dragan Bender, Igor Kokoskov, Josh Jackson, Earl Watson, Brandon Knight and so on. It has been a revolving door around Devin Booker since his NBA career started.

There have been times where we have been, and perhaps “fooled” is not the right word, but there’s been some level of buying in to all these failed resets of the franchise.

This, rightfully so, has made those among fans, media and alike that follow the team closely very hesitant at having some belief in change afoot.

The vibe from Williams and the players is that the head coach at least owns and controls the locker room. That was something highly in question during Watson’s time and an undisputed fact during Kokoskov’s.

When T.J. Warren was in town on Wednesday for his return to Talking Stick Resort Arena, he unprompted said he’s heard “really good things” about Williams. Early on in Williams’ tenure this season when his players were asked about him, the overall consensus was that he was that dude. He was all-in and completely about changing things in Phoenix, someone you could characterize without exaggerating as a true basketball lifer that lives and breathes the National Basketball Association.

That’s not even beginning to mention how high of a reputation Williams has from some of the most well-respected names in the league like Gregg Popovich, Kevin Durant and so on. He’s also got a close, well-functioning relationship with Jones that had an offseason of acquisitions match the style of play Williams was going to deploy.

So if you’ve got the whiteboard out in front of you and are doing the math off all that, it adds up to something that should work with the Suns.

At just over the halfway point of year one, I asked Williams where he feels like his relationship is at with his group and how his messages are getting through. He made sure to emphasize he can’t speak for the players, but here’s what he said Thursday after practice.

“I spend a lot of time in communication with all our guys. Cheick (Diallo) and Elie (Okobo) probably don’t like me much today because I had to call them up in a number of situations. The starters, I had great communication with them and what I expect from that group, but I do that all the time.

“But what they think about it? I don’t know. They probably think I’m nuts when they get a text message from me at six in the morning or two at night about anything that I see or think about that could help them. That’s my goal. I want to see all of our guys go to the next level in their careers. That’s it, and this organization, getting to the next level. Everything I do is based on that.”

Maybe a question like that doesn’t have to be asked to Williams, but given the past and how Phoenix is currently either very high or low, it’s timely after a rough 112-87 loss to the Pacers.

“With a new group, with (a) new team, mixed with some veterans and younger guys — we all have to get on the same page,” Booker said for his headspace going into the season. “We knew it wasn’t going to happen overnight but that does make it frustrating when you can see the spurts when where we’re all locked in together and we’re playing at a high level compared to games like last night when you just get your ass kicked from beginning to end.”

That means there’s a different approach to games like that, where better teams could “just flush it” and move on. The Suns can’t do that.

“If you were the Spurs or the Clippers and you got two All-Stars on your team and know you’re going to be in the second round of the playoffs or the conference finals, yeah, you flush it,” Williams said. “But when you’re not there, and for me, I’m not saying I’m right, but I think you take every opportunity to teach and learn and we know we can’t play effectively if we don’t play extremely competitive and hard and if we don’t have the body movement, the player movement and if we don’t lock into a defensive gameplan, we got no shot.

“We have to have all three of those things at a high level and almost perfect to have a chance to win games.”

That’s how far they have to go, and once again leaning on what has been said this season, the players understand the spot they’re in and are digesting what Williams is trying to teach them in order to better the situation.

“They know. They know,” he said. “I mean, we’ve got good guys. They’re competitive and they’re good guys. For the most part, they kind of know what I’m feeling and they know when they’re not playing at the level they’re capable of.”


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