On Feb. 1, the Phoenix Suns named Earl Watson as their interim head coach.
Promoted from the role of an assistant on Jeff Hornacek’s staff, Watson at the time became the 17th head coach in franchise history.
Since then, the 36-year-old has guided the Suns to a 6-22 record, and while that may not seem like the type of performance that would warrant the organization removing the interim tag and naming Watson the full time coach going forward, there are some who believe that is exactly what’s going to happen.
The players are fond of him, and the team has shown a little more fight of late. However, as a guest of Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Tuesday, Watson said conversations about what kind of role he may have following the end of this season “have been minimal.”
“But I think both sides, as well as management, ownership and myself, we understand that this thing cannot be tweaked; it has to be changed,” he said. “We also understand the people or the person or the group that leads this, from the coaching staff, has to be like-minded with management and ownership. There has to be one vision, and that one vision is very critical and important.”
Watson continued, saying it’s not just a basketball change with getting better, more athletic players and better shooters. He added there must be an equation that is discovered and created by everyone within the organization, including ownership, management, the analytics staff and medical staff, too, because turning the franchise around is bigger than just one move at the coaching level.
“Listen, I really appreciate the opportunity, the experience has been amazing; it’s priceless for whatever contract comes next,” he said. “I would do it again no matter what the roster looks like or injuries — this is the greatest gift that has ever been received by me in this game of basketball.
“But I’m just too classy and I just want to be an example for these young players and other people, you can never control other peoples’ decisions, but you can control your attitude, your emotion and how you handle it. So I have to be a role model at the end of the day.”
It’s not surprising that Watson would like to stick around given that there are only 30 head coaching jobs in the NBA and at this moment he has one of them. Suns management has not publicly said much about his future, but has often praised the work he has done since taking over for Hornacek.
Whether or not there have been deep and intense talks about staying on long-term, the fact that Watson and the organization have had conversations, even if minimal, may be a clue into what they are thinking.
Watson, though, is not fretting over it all.
“I told our GM (Ryan McDonough) and I really mean this, that a lot of people in this business, when they don’t get what they want in this business or the promotion they want, they leave it in a bad way,” he said. “No matter what, this is a great beginning for this program. You have amazing people involved. Whoever takes it over is going to be blessed beyond. It’s the vision and creativity in building it that’s going to be the hard work. It’s building versus occupant. You can’t have someone coming to occupy; you have to have someone that embraces the building.
“When we talk about our team, before that Utah game, the previous 10 games we went from 29th in the league in defense from the previous 66 — the previous 10 before Utah, we moved up to 12th — so when you start thinking about the future and building, we know 12, really top 10 is where we want to eventually be, and where I think this team has to be to make the playoffs next season.”