He's had the job for less than a month and barely had enough time to re-mold the butt crease in former coach Jeff Hornacek's chair, but that hasn't stopped interim head coach Earl Watson from playing most of Hornacek's greatest hits.
Already, Watson has tried using a grueling practice to coax better play from his team (Hornacek did this on at least two occasions this season) and has mixed and matched rotations in an attempt to find the right combinations of players, even dusting off the Tyson Chandler/Alex Len pairing against the Brooklyn Nets. But Watson has most closely echoed Hornacek in his comments to the media.
As Watson embarked on his first foray as a head coach, he was filled with positive energy and encouragement, and the team responded well to his approach, putting up more fight than it had in months over Watson's first few games. Along the way, he held true to his encouraging mantra as he kept in mind that changes wouldn't come immediately.
"Veteran group versus a young group. It's a process." [Watson]
"We're growing. We're getting better. We're not discouraged. We won't be discouraged. No matter what numbers throw out there or what happens, we understand the process and the journey." [Watson]
Those comments are similar to the tone Hornacek was striking in December as his Suns were trying to pull out of the nosedive their rapidly failing season was in the midst of.
"The guys are battling. Hopefully, they get over the hump here." [Hornacek]
Dec. 31, 2015 after another New Year's Eve loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder:
"The way they played is the way we want to enter 2016, and we will be OK." [Hornacek]
Unfortunately for both Hornacek and Watson, the positive thoughts did not result in positive results on the court.
For Hornacek, he went 2-12 in the month of January before being relieved of his duties in February. Over the course of that time, the losing started to fray Hornacek's patience with the club.
"That's what gets frustrating at times. Coaches put together a plan. You've got to follow it, or we're just wasting our time.
"We didn't close out hard. The hand up in the air. You've got to run shooters off the line. You think you're going to just stand up and put your hand up. That's not going to do anything. That's being more determined to not let the shooters get the shots. We told them (Covington) was going to shoot a bunch of 3s. He shoots 12. If we're alert, he shouldn't get 12 off."
After one of Hornacek's physical practices in late January:
"We've got to be intense. We've got to be not afraid to foul. We've got to be not afraid to help each other out, not afraid to knock someone over. Just play to win. Sometimes, I think we're playing not to lose." [Hornacek]
Watson, usually sounding like the eternal optimist, has let some of his frustrations over his team's undisciplined play spill over into his comments as well.
"We have to start learning how to win games. We can't just take these character wins and move on. This is a competitive group. Our whole staff and our whole family here is competitive." [Watson]
Feb. 25, 2016 after a half-hearted effort against a struggling Brooklyn Nets team:
"We need all five guys to be into it and be active. We don't have a full roster, so we can't take shortcuts on plays. Four guys can't play, one guy be tuned out. Three guys can't play, two guys don't box out. We understand we need all five." [Watson]
But even the mild-mannered Hornacek and optimistic Watson have their limits, and this team has pushed both men beyond theirs an occasion or two.
For Hornacek, his moment came when he could no longer contain his anger after watching his team roll over and die to the tune of a 30-point beating at the hands of the equally bad Timberwolves.
Jan. 17, 2016 after being routed by the Minnesota Timberwolves:
"A guy doesn't have pride to go out and stop someone. They shoot 57 percent. You can't have the coaches go out there and guard them. It's just straight-line drives. That's pride. These guys can call themselves basketball players. Until you try to go out there and stop somebody and get in front of somebody and take a charge and do something ... we've got one or two guys maybe on this team that do that.
"When you give up 40 free throws, that means you're not guarding anybody. To me, if I'm out there playing, I'm at least guarding my guy.
"The effort was somewhat there in the first half, but once they got down 17, 18, then they didn't have that effort ...whatever."
Watson's similar moment of incredulity at his team's play came after a 40-point loss to the Clippers that is tied for 3rd worst in franchise history.
Late February after his own grueling practice:
"I can't even tell you what I said because it's not printable.
"The last game is totally unacceptable to lose by 40 points. It bothers me when you bring it up. And it bothered us today in practice."
Both Hornacek and Watson mirror each other when it comes to coping with their team's poor play, and they both also regularly lay the blame for the team's poor performances squarely at the feet of the same culprit — defense, or lack thereof.
It started from the first game of the season, when the Dallas Mavericks defeated Phoenix. "Their guards just ran over us," Hornacek said. "They went into the pick-and-roll and we could never stop them."
That early season trend never abated, either.
Watson would concur after his team's beating at the hands of the Clippers on Feb. 22. "Defense has always been an obstacle for this program all year," he said.
So with all that, what does it say that two different coaches this season have said the same things, harped on the same deficiencies, and vented at regular intervals over this team's egregious play? It says the team's problem was not and still is not the guy wearing the Clotherie suit. Take note, Ryan McDonough.