Earl Watson has no problem owning the room. His voice -- soft, yet commanding -- draws whoever he is speaking to in, and you know when he embarks on one of his basketball soliloquies, you better shut up and listen. It is difficult for any coach to register the respect of their players while simultaneously relating to them and promoting an open and honest atmosphere. A "brotherhood" of sorts.
At the end of the day, NBA players are no different than the rest of us in what they desire in a leader -- they want to be respected, heard, and understood. With Watson having the perspective of a former player, he is in a lucrative position to parlay his experiences on the court with the tutelage he has garnered from playing under a coach like Terry Stotts during his stint in Portland.
Naturally, athletes are more likely to perk their ears while receiving instruction from a former player rather than a short, deliriously tomato-faced white man. (I may or may not have just described the notorious SVG.)
Do not get me wrong, Stan Van Gundy is a great coach in his own right, but that does not mean that players are not in search of a coach who has gone through the gauntlet and truly grasps the grind of being a player. The old "you don't know until you've been through it," premise.
Look at Tyronn Lue in Cleveland, for example. A moody LeBron James would have never straightened out his cryptic outbursts on Twitter and other platforms if David Blatt had been the one scolding him. Blatt's voice carried about as much weight as a feather to James. Lue, on the other hand, can drawback on his own "championship experiences" as a player and essentially call out James until he gets his act together when the time comes. That is powerful.
Watson is constructing his own reputation when it comes to developing talent in Phoenix, routinely making a point to dap up players and connect with them on a personal level whether they are in his presence for one hour, one year, or beyond. This sort of behavior made an immediate impression on nearly all of the prospects that worked out for the Suns over the last month, including new Boston Celtic Jaylen Brown.
"With Coach Watson being a player, as well as a coach -- he can relate. He understands it. He gets involved in the workout. I saw Devin Booker working out and [Coach Watson] was in the workout pushing Booker ... That kind of goes a long way," Brown said.
Though some of the recent chemistry issues involving Isaiah Thomas, Goran Dragic, and the Morrii have tainted the prestige of the Suns around the league, that narrative is in the beginning stages of taking a complete turn. The emergence of Watson as a leader transcends the image of the organization around the league, and agents have not been shy about voicing their desire to have their clients be drafted by Phoenix.
"We had a number of players — not just [Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss and Tyler Ulis] — and their agents calling us, reaching out to us, texting us and saying, ‘We want to be in Phoenix. We like what you are doing,’" McDonough told the media on Thursday night.
Interestingly, agents and players were not against sacrificing financial gains with the thought of making their way to the desert.
[Speaking as an agent after being asked about risking a higher financial gain] McDonough said, "We don’t care. We like you. We like your situation. We love your coach. We love the way he connects with young players; he motivates them; he inspires them. We saw what he did with Devin Booker. We saw what he did with Alex Len, and we want our guys in Phoenix."
"That’s powerful … And we feel like it gives [the Suns] an advantage because not every team has that. There are certain teams in the league that the agents do not let players go workout for, don’t send the medicals/physicals to," McDonough continued. "With us, and the position we are in, it’s the opposite. [The agents] are calling us saying, ‘Please, my guy wants to be in Phoenix. You are his number one choice. How do we get him there?’"
It is a unique position for Suns fans, brass, and staff to find themselves in. Normally, players are seeking their way out of Phoenix for greener pastures unless they are a washed up veteran with a reliance on the exemplary training staff to salvage the latter stages of their career.
But this, this is different. Young players with loads of potential seeking out the Suns? When is Ashton Kutcher going to jump out from behind a wall and exclaim that we are getting Punk'D?
By the looks of how things are shaping, this is the formation of a foundation being built. A process, if you will.
As I was being escorted out of the makeshift press conference area on Friday, I couldn't help but notice Watson talking to Booker across the hall. After subtle jabs of playful banter were exchanged, the conversation culminated with a locked fist to bro hug display. The sort of thing you would only do with someone that is "your boy."
This is the new normal in Phoenix. We have a "cool" coach that people want to play for.
Who knows what kinds of luxuries that reality will be able unlock in the future.