EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns begin training camp with a head start boosted by continuity

Sep 28, 2021, 2:55 PM
Head coach Monty Williams of the Phoenix Suns talks with Chris Paul #3, Deandre Ayton #22, Mikal Br...
Head coach Monty Williams of the Phoenix Suns talks with Chris Paul #3, Deandre Ayton #22, Mikal Bridges #25, Jae Crowder #99 and Devin Booker #1 in the second half of game five of the NBA Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks at Footprint Center on July 17, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Bucks defeated the Suns 123-119. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX –For Monty Williams’ first year with the Phoenix Suns as their head coach, it was, well, his first year. He had to teach the entire roster his system, its language and so on. That process can take a while and becomes the central focus of the training camp.

In Year 2, Williams had that familiarity with a handful of returning players, but he said that changing point guards — from Ricky Rubio to Chris Paul — meant there was only a certain amount of continuity.

So now, with Paul and Cam Payne returning as the floor generals and the Suns’ top seven players in minutes last year also back, that’s a big boost for getting a bit of a head start in beginning training camp on Tuesday.

“Chris picked it up quickly but even as the year progressed, last year at the end, he would remark to me, ‘Coach, next year we’re really going to be ahead of the game as far as continuity is concerned,'” Williams said Tuesday after practice. “And having Book and DA and Cam and Mikal, that group of guys, Frank, Dario — they’ve been here from Day 1. That really helps.”

When Payne spoke Tuesday, you could sense that he was a lot more comfortable with his role on the team too. And when you think about it, no duh.

He was in the running for reserve minutes last year, but not in a cemented position, whereas this season he’s the bonafide lead guard off the bench with a shiny new $19 million contract to prove it.

“I probably say last year I was kinda more focused on me (to) pick the plays up and trying to do all the things I can to get on the court,” Payne said. “And now it’s a little opposite where I’m kinda teaching a little bit because I know the plays.”

There’s also a bonus to a point general manager James Jones made at media day on Monday, that guys are going to need less of a ramp-up to get back in game shape after a shorter layoff. Payne shared that sentiment, and Williams said the team was able to get up and down with 4-on-4 play, with a projection for Wednesday being a borderline scrimmage.

That’s not all that common for the opening of training camp.

“We were able to progress a lot faster today,” Williams said of playing at that tempo.

With all that in mind, Payne was quick to say that Williams is “a wizard” when it comes to all of the new designs he’s drawn up and that it’s almost like Day 1 again because of that, as you’d expect. It’s not unusual for Williams to watch practices with a small piece of paper to scribble on or even create additions to his playbook, something he’s said in the past he’ll even do by his bedside.

“Since the last second went off, I already know he started,” Payne said of Williams’ dedication to more wrinkles and layers to what the Suns run.

NEW DIGS

The Suns have been working out of their new practice facility since November of last year, and with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it was strictly a Zoom environment for media.

We got our first look on Tuesday, and boy is it snazzy.

“This is where we come to work every day and this is a great place,” Johnson said.

As previously discussed, Johnson brought up the prime location at 44th Street and Camelback Road being “really nice,” as just about all the team is a 15-minute drive or less away. With an ease on COVID-19 restrictions compared to last season, it’s easier for them to come in and get shots up this time around as well.

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