EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns’ Devin Booker relates to Monty Williams’ Coach of the Year snub

Jun 8, 2021, 9:11 AM

Head coach Monty Williams of the Phoenix Suns talks with Devin Booker #1 and Jae Crowder #99 during...

Head coach Monty Williams of the Phoenix Suns talks with Devin Booker #1 and Jae Crowder #99 during the second half of Game One of the Western Conference first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns Arena on May 23, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker can relate to earning praise from his peers, only for media members to turn their noses up at him.

Twice over the past two years, he’s been regarded as an All-Star caliber player who wasn’t voted into the NBA All-Star Game. Twice, Booker has been added to the event as an injury replacement.

So he understands that after his head coach, Monty Williams, won the National Basketball Coaches Association Coach of the Year award, it was plausible media members wouldn’t see it the same way.

That came to be Monday, as New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau was named the 2020-21 NBA Coach of the Year. His team won 41 games to Phoenix’s 51 during the regular season.

“No disrespect to Thibs or any other coach, Quin (Snyder of Utah),” Booker said Monday after Phoenix’s Game 1 victory against the Denver Nuggets. “You know my answer: Monty’s come in here and shifted the culture tremendously. I’ve seen the bottom and once he got here, that energy changed. The gym changed. Personnel changed and he developed a culture that we bought into and loved. I always say it every day: The culture is something that makes coming to work every day fun, and that starts with Monty.

“He’s definitely deserving of it,” Booker added. “I think when the coaches voted themselves, they put him as Coach of the Year. Kind of similar to when the players voted me into the All-Star (game) and some other people come in and make the decision. Coach Monty is our Coach of the Year.”

Thibodeau’s win could be viewed as an East Coast bias showing in the other Coach of the Year award that’s voted on by media members.

Or maybe the Suns’ bubble run a year ago, which isn’t part of the equation for this year’s Coach of the Year award, was out of mind for voting media members. It’s fair to say adding Chris Paul has a lot to do with the Suns’ success this season — and that Williams had already done the grunt-work of changing the culture a year ago.

Still, the optics didn’t look great with Thibodeau’s Knicks sitting at home when the award was announced Monday after an uninspiring first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks. Meanwhile, the Suns were flexing with a 122-105 win in their second-round series.

It should be mentioned here, though, that media members turned in their votes before the playoffs began.

Some were quick on Monday to clear their names of any wrongdoing, and it was notable Williams’ second-place finish to Thibodeau was by the slightest margin (11 points). Williams also earned more first-place votes than Thibodeau, 45 to 43.

After Deandre Ayton on Monday dropped 20 points and 10 rebounds squaring off against the MVP favorite, Nikola Jokic, the Suns center was asked how Williams brought the best out of him and other young teammates.

“That guy, Coach, he doesn’t approach you like an NBA head coach. He approaches you like a friend, some say father figure,” Ayton said. “He teaches you so many things away from basketball and you create this bond and chemistry where you catch yourself coming to him for advice about anything. That type of stuff builds on the court, and now you want to play as hard as you can for this dude and this organization.”

While Booker and Ayton were in position to vouch for their head coach’s candidacy, Williams before the game only showed appreciation for Thibodeau, who he worked with as assistants on USA Basketball’s coaching staff from 2014-16.

“It’s a reflection of how hard Thibs works and how that team plays,” Williams said before his team’s Game 1 win. “Those are really cool moments when you have one of your brothers that you’ve worked with get an achievement like that. It’s awesome.”

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