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Phoenix Suns’ Earl Watson earning the respect of his players, peers

Phoenix Suns head coach Earl Watson in the third quarter during an NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, in Phoenix. The Suns defeated the Grizzlies 111-106. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

PHOENIX — Coaches are judged by wins and losses.

Earl Watson is judged, by his own choosing, by a different standard.

“Like I told the team, I love the opportunity to teach and to nurture and to love and create a program, establish a program. I’m not really into just winning games,” Watson said Monday. “I’m into changing lives, changing mindsets and as a staff, we want to change lives and change mindsets and create a movement.”

Progress has been slow for the Phoenix Suns interim head coach.

Watson has yet to have a full roster at his disposal. Starting point guards Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight are both hurt, though Knight is expected to return soon. T.J. Warren is hurt and done for the season like Bledsoe. Markieff Morris was traded, while Tyson Chandler and Alex Len had been rotating in-and-out of the lineup until this past Saturday when the two seven-footers started the game and helped lead the Suns to their first victory in 34 days and Watson’s first since taking over on Feb. 1.

For Watson, it was his 10th game as head coach, the longest wait for a first win in franchise history.

“It’s much deserved,” said forward P.J. Tucker, who presented the game ball to Watson in the locker room immediately following the 111-106 victory over Memphis. “He’s been working hard. He really cares. It’s a tough situation, not wanting to wish on anybody, especially for their first time being a head coach, but at the end of the day he really cares. He’s been putting work in and trying to motivate guys to get guys to play.”

Before he was dealt to Washington, Morris thrived under Watson, averaging 20.7 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists in five games.

Now it’s Len, who Watson empowered following the trade deadline.

Twice in the past four games, Len has posted double-doubles.

His 22-point, 16-rebound effort against the Grizzlies in addition to the play of rookie Devin Booker earned unprompted praise from Memphis head coach David Joerger.

“Good game as far as seeing some young talent, Alex Len played terrific, Devin Booker showed why he was a top-13 pick. You have that kind of talent, those are guys that you can really develop and they did a great job. They were ready to play, I thought they played with a lot more focus than we did,” he said Saturday, later adding, “I’m happy for those guys, happy for Earl…I love their young guys, they’re only going to keep getting better.”

Told of Joerger’s comments, Watson said, “For Coach to say that, he just reflects the organization and their program. That’s ultimate respect coming from them especially.”

Respect echoed a week earlier when San Antonio visited.

At the time, the Spurs set a new franchise record in wins through 56 games of a season at 47, yet what head coach Gregg Popovich wanted to discuss was a Suns team that had just lost its 11th straight game, 118-111.

“I thought they did a great job. They’re aggressiveness was fantastic. Earl was calm and cool the whole night,” he said. “They played their fannies off for him and I’m not just saying that because he’s the interim coach and I’m trying to make him look good, their aggressiveness and attention to detail was fantastic. That kept them in the game and almost gave them a chance to win the game. It was very impressive.”

While the season-long 13-game losing streak is over, the Suns still have a 15-game road losing streak staring them in the face.

The Suns (15-44) play their next four games on the road, beginning Tuesday in Charlotte with stops to come in Miami, Orlando and Memphis.

Make no mistake, Watson wants to win them all, but he continues to view his first-ever NBA head coaching opportunity in a much larger spectrum.

“The ultimate goal is always the destination of championships and to build a program that has that. Establishing the way we think, the way we act, the way we carry ourselves on-and-off the court, how we relate to the community. We can’t just worry about putting on jerseys and becoming champions. We’ve also got to be champions when we leave the arena and we put on regular clothes and we go in the community,” he said.

“The programs we establish and how we represent ourselves outside of basketball to me is more impactful than winning games.”


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