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Suns GM: Earl Watson has helped his candidacy over last couple of months

Phoenix Suns coach Earl Watson grabs a clipboard to draw a play as he calls for a timeout during the second half against the Denver Nuggets in an NBA basketball game Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Denver. The Nuggets won 116-98. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
LISTEN: Ryan McDonough, Suns' General Manager

Ryan McDonough understands the perception that Earl Watson may not have enough experience to have the interim tag removed from his title at the end of this season.

But understanding the perception and buying into it are two different things.

“I think you can say that about anybody who hasn’t been a head coach or a general manager, though, right?” Suns GM Ryan McDonough, currently in his third season with Phoenix, told Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Wednesday. “That’s the biggest hurdle, like with any job, you don’t know how somebody’s going to do or how they may do until they’ve done it.

“I think over the past couple months Earl’s really helped himself.”

Watson officially replaced Jeff Hornacek on Feb. 1, with the Suns winning eight of 32 games under his watch. The team has appeared to play hard for him, which should not be overlooked.

“Obviously our record’s not great, but he’s been dealt a very difficult hand,” McDonough explained. “I think his first major challenge was the Markieff Morris situation and I thought he handled that tremendously well and helped us get a pick that as of today, I think, will be about 12th or 13th in the lottery. That’s huge for us, huge for the organization.

“So yeah, he’s done well and I think that certainly helped his candidacy. The fact that yes, he doesn’t have a lot of experience, but we have seen some good things over the past two and a half months.”

That said, McDonough acknowledged there are of course things they have seen that Watson could improve at or traits he could refine, which would be the case for any young coach.

“But I think having the benefit of an offseason and training camp or preseason and all that would help him tremendously,” he said. “So he certainly is a candidate for the job, and as I mentioned, what he’s done over the past few months has I think helped him gain a little bit of momentum.”

Last week, a report surfaced saying the Suns would target Mike D’Antoni, Luke Walton and Dan Majerle, with a previous rumor linking them to Villanova coach Jay Wright. Other names that could come up with regards to the Suns are Tom Thibodeau, Scott Brooks and David Blatt.

But as of this moment, Watson would appear to have an edge, if only because he’s currently on board and seems to have the players’ support, which McDonough said is a factor.

“I don’t think it’s the main factor or an overriding factor, but it certainly is mportant that they believe in him, that they like what he’s done, that they like the effort the team has shown,” he said. “And you know, Earl’s got a good way, he’s got a unique way of connecting with the players while also he’s pretty tough on them; he goes at them, he’s very direct, but he also holds them accountable.”

Whatever the Suns do, be it retain Watson or hire someone else, McDonough said their preference would be to name a coach sooner rather than later. It could be challenging if some of their targets are with teams who will be in the postseason.

“If we did want to talk to say assistant coaches or guys like that on teams that are currently in the playoffs we’d need to figure out the timing of it,” he said.

One advantage the Suns may have is that they have a bit of a head start in whittling down their options and should enter the offseason with a leg up on teams who may still be deciding whether or not to make a change. Of course, the more jobs that open up the more teams Phoenix will have to compete with for a coach’s services, so that will be something the team has to contend with.

“Any advantage you can get as an organization as far as being out ahead of that, having potentially your pick of all the candidates,” McDonough said, “because we’re not just talking about hiring a head coach — that’s obviously extremely important — but then once you get that guy in place, then you have to fill out a good staff as well, and for some of these better assistant coaches there’s a lot of competition for the staff as you go through that process as well.”

Asked to give a timeline, the GM said it’s impossible to say when the search will conclude but did say finding a coach will be their “top priority” once the Suns’ season ends Wednesday night and would prefer to have someone in place by the pre-draft combine in Chicago, which begins May 11 in Chicago.

“So ideally we’d love to have somebody in place by then, and if we can, have their staff set by then as well,” he said. “That helps us when we come back from Chicago with the predraft workouts and offseason workouts as well with our Suns players.”

 

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