Monty Williams fired as Phoenix Suns head coach
May 13, 2023, 6:43 PM | Updated: May 31, 2023, 9:39 am
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
The Phoenix Suns fired head coach Monty Williams on Saturday, the team announced.
“Monty has been foundational to our success over the past four seasons,” President of Basketball Operations and General Manager James Jones said in a press release.
“We are filled with gratitude for everything Monty has contributed to the Suns and to the Valley community. While it was difficult for me to make this decision, I look forward to continuing the work to build a championship team.”
The Suns continue to turn over all levels of the organization as the decision was made by new owner Mat Ishbia, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
“Ishbia has fully taken over the franchise’s basketball operations, including the negotiation of the February trade for Kevin Durant and now the dismissal of Williams. Suns GM James Jones called Williams on Saturday night and delivered the news to him,” Wojnarowski said.
The firing comes just two days after the team’s 2023 playoff exit against the Denver Nuggets in six games.
Phoenix now will be competing with the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors and Detroit Pistons in the coaching free-agent market this offseason.
NBA reporter Marc Stein adds that the Suns will try and lure Los Angeles Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue away from the team.
Williams went 194-115 (.628) in four seasons. The Suns narrowly missed the playoff bubble in the COVID-shortened 2019-20 season before going to the NBA Finals in 2021 and losing in the conference semifinals the past two years.
Williams, though, ultimately takes the fall for how each of those playoff runs ended.
The Suns blew 2-0 lead on the Milwaukee Bucks to fall in six games in the 2021 Finals, then another 2-0 lead on the Dallas Mavericks in the 2022 conference semis. That ended in a Game 7 blowout at home.
Phoenix recovered from a 2-0 hole against the top-seeded Denver Nuggets this year after the Suns acquired star Kevin Durant in a trade-deadline blockbuster but lost in a non-competitive Game 6 elimination, again at home and again including a 30-point halftime deficit.
Williams agreed to a multi-year extension in July 2022, when the team was under former owner Robert Sarver. He has one year of his original five-year deal remaining for the 2023-24 season before the extension kicks in.
Taking over as head coach of the Suns prior to the 2019-20 NBA season, Phoenix saw improvement in every season under the leadership of Williams before 2022-23.
After leading the Suns to an NBA-best 64-18 record last season, Williams was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year. He’s also received the award from the National Basketball Coaches Association in consecutive seasons.
In the 2020-21 season, Williams led the Suns to the NBA Finals for the first time for the franchise since 1993.
In his first season, the Suns made strides improving to 34 wins from 19 the season prior. Williams was with the Suns in the 2020 NBA Bubble, which included an 8-0 run that would set the tone for the next two seasons.
This past year, the Suns finished fourth in the Western Conference with a 45-37 record. They had a net rating that ranked ninth in the NBA, an accomplishment with the team missing starters Devin Booker (29 games), Chris Paul (23) and Deandre Ayton (15 games) due to injuries.
Phoenix did not have starter Jae Crowder, a staple in the starting group the past two years. And it only got 56 games from Mikal Bridges and 17 from Cam Johnson before those 2022-23 starters were traded for Kevin Durant, who only appeared in eight regular season outings for the Suns.
The head coach developed a reputation for showing some stubbornness in his beliefs — and certain players — for better and worse.
He and center Deandre Ayton worked through what appeared to be a fractured relationship over the past year-plus, highlighted by Williams’ benching Ayton in a Game 7 loss that ended Phoenix’s season in 2022 against the Dallas Mavericks. Ayton claimed Williams never reached out after that, nor after the then-free-agent center signed an offer sheet with the Indiana Pacers that Phoenix matched.