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Monty Williams sees major growth in himself since last time he coached CP3

Chris Paul #3 of the New Orleans Hornets talks with head coach Monty Williams during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on January 30, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Hornets 104-102. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

2010 was a long time ago. Monty Williams was 39. Chris Paul was 25. Williams had taken his first NBA head coaching job with the New Orleans Hornets, while Paul had certified himself there as one of the best basketball players on the planet.

They only got one year together before Paul was traded, and Williams in a joking but not really joking type of way credited Paul and his team for all the hype he got for leading New Orleans to 46 wins in his first season.

“I had him and David West, Willie Green, Emeka Okafor, Jarrett Jack, Trevor Ariza, Marco (Belinelli), guys like that as a rookie head coach,” he said Tuesday. “And after that year, people thought I could coach. And then Chris and David left and we didn’t re-sign Willie and then all of a sudden the plays I was drawing up didn’t work out as well.”

It’s now 10 years later. Williams is entering his second season coaching the Suns and he’s reunited with Paul after the biggest blockbuster trade of the NBA offseason.

Williams speaks like he was almost a completely different person back then, and given how kind and thoughtful Williams is, you’d be shocked to hear about his coaching style with the Hornets.

Because he was learning on the job with a, um, rather (let’s say) forceful approach, Williams almost seems the most excited to be back with Paul so that he can get another crack at it.

“I think that we both have grown a lot,” he said. “I think we both were really headstrong too back then. I was walking around like a dictator ready to cut somebody’s head off trying to implement my way and my program. I don’t think I was really good at allowing him to do what the great ones do. There were times I felt like I took the paintbrush out of his hand.”

Williams, who is keen on reflecting, admitted it’s a singular season he’s looked back on a whole lot. He can see now what was going wrong and fixable. As for what was going right, well…

“A lot of that was Chris,” he said. “He has an ability to make people around him better. We saw it last year in Oklahoma City.”

Indeed we did. Even if Paul is now in the twilight of his career at 35, he got back to being one of the league’s elite after making Second Team All-NBA with the Thunder.

Williams understands better than anyone what Ricky Rubio and Kelly Oubre Jr. meant to his group last year, but the player Paul is makes the blow of trading them tolerable.

“We added a first-ballot Hall of Fame point guard to our team,” Williams said. “Obviously, that comes with a bit of sacrifice but we felt like it was one that was more than worth the risk and we felt like there wasn’t much negative risk. We felt like the reward for trading for a guy like Chris, and for me, reuniting with him was a bonus.

“We still feel like it’s going to improve our team. That’s no disrespect to Ricky or Kelly but Chris is Chris. He’s one of the best players in the history of the game, especially at his position. He may be the best point guard of his era.”

Williams has a next-level appreciation for Paul. He mentioned looking forward to being a “sponge” around Paul with the way the veteran point guard manages a game, something he surely realized was missing from the next five NBA head coaching seasons he had without him.

The decade they spent apart allowed them to change, but there’s still one core element of their relationship that will remain the same, one that spreads throughout an entire organization.

“I think it’s probably bad when you don’t care enough to demand,” he said. “If you talk to Devin (Booker) and Mikal (Bridges) and Cam (Johnson) and the guys I’ve been around, they probably get tired of text messages at 1, 2, 3 o’clock in the morning about how they can get better or something that I saw that I feel like can help them but I have a responsibility to develop and help these guys become the best version of themselves. And I think Chris has always felt that.

“He feels a responsibility to make guys better. You may not like the way he does it sometimes but I think if you look at his heart and his intention, you’ll see a guy who might be one of the most competitive people you will ever, ever be around. I’ve witnessed it for myself, and I’d rather have that than guys who don’t want to win. Guys who are happy about coming out of the game, guys who don’t work. I’d rather have this than the opposite.”

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