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Monty Williams: If you’re not playing for the playoffs, what are you playing for?

The Suns head coach and star player both went on the record on Saturday saying their goal was to make the playoffs.

Phoenix Suns v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Focus forward.

The Suns’ official online tag this year is #RisePHX, but the quip everyone has been most ready to bust out when they’re speaking publicly about the state of the team is... Focus forward.

Few in the organization were willing to be any more specific than that on media day earlier this month, except Devin Booker, who plainly said he wanted to make the playoffs. Booker said the same thing even more aggressively in 2018, when he told The Undefeated he never wanted to miss the playoffs again.

The scoring guard is as competitive as they come, but it was notable he was the only one stating that goal this year — until Saturday.

“For us at this point, (the goal) is just the playoffs, whatever seed that is,” Booker said after practice on Saturday. “It’s not going to be easy in the West and we know that. The wild West is tough this year, it is every year. So we know it’s going to have to be consistent work.”

Suns head coach Monty Williams — always careful with his words — later echoed the sentiment from his star player.

Asked if the playoffs were the team’s goal, Williams said, “I’ve heard all the stuff, and everybody’s entitled to their opinion, but if that’s not what you’re fighting for, you’re probably not going to be around me long.”

By “the stuff,” we can assume Williams is referring to the cloud of doubt that circles any positive statements from a franchise that has won 40 games the past two seasons combined. Still, Williams has been a winner in every stop as a coach and doesn’t see the point of competing for anything other than the postseason.

“That’s something where if you’re not playing for that, then why are you playing?” he asked. “We feel like we’re one of the teams that people are going to look at and say, ‘That’s not a night off anymore.’”

In order to fulfill their goal, the Suns will likely have to do better than doubling their win total from 2018-19 and improve over the course of the year. Right now, the team is unfamiliar with one another and many players are inexperienced.

Booker, Williams and general manager James Jones are all aligned on the fact that broadly, the focus is getting better month to month.

“We don’t really have a history, we’re fresh,” Jones said on media day when asked about the recent failures of the Suns. “So we’re trying to embrace the history of the Suns as a franchise — a historic franchise that’s experienced a lot of success. We’ll have a lot of fun this year and continue to separate ourselves from the past.”

Booker too was optimistic about the possibility of growth on Saturday.

“We know it’s going to have to be consistent work,” he said. “I think we’re going to get better throughout the year, but getting out to a good start will be good for us.”

This team has not earned the benefit of the doubt, but their comments here are more evidential of diligence and mindset than predictive analysis. They are speaking to the work they hope to put in, not breaking down the standings tiebreakers or home/road splits that will determine their spot in the playoff race.

Said Williams: “No disrespect to anyone else, but this isn’t something we want to put out there lightly, because we’ve said we want to compete every month and improve every month, but yeah, that’s always the goal, to get to the playoffs.”

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