The Phoenix Suns have missed the playoffs nine straight seasons. Over that timeframe, three general managers and now seven head coaches have cycled through the organization.
However, a change seems to be on the horizon for the greater good. GM James Jones and head coach Monty Williams appear to be 100 percent on the same page. That feeling reverberated throughout the pavilion of Talking Stick Resort Arena on Tuesday morning.
When Williams spoke to the local media on hand, you got the sense of why exactly he was the Suns’ preferred choice and enough to shuffle the deck replacing Igor Kokoskov after one season. Unlike Kokoskov, Williams controls the room. His character and knowledge of the game, along with his league-wide respect, will result in immediate buy-in from the roster.
And if you’ve listened closely throughout the season, Williams epitomizes exactly what Jones was looking for in his own head coach to complete his vision. Championship habits and focusing on the minute details just don’t pop up out of thin air.
“I wanted to thank James for trusting me and partnering with me. Our conversations the last few weeks have not only excited me, but given me something I don’t feel like I had in a long time,” Williams said during his opening statement about Jones. “Just being able to have something that he and I not only can have here, but he and I will be friends for a long, long time going forward. Just based on who we are and our value system and how much we not only want to bring success to this city, but have an impact on all the young men we get to work with.”
Working hand-in-hand with perfect alignment is going to be a main focus, because this simply hasn’t existed in the franchise since Sarver first took ownership back in the mid-2000s with Mike D’Antoni and Steve Kerr. And for Williams to feel confident coming aboard the Suns, saying thanks but no thanks to the Los Angeles Lakers in the process, he had to know Sarver wouldn’t avoid the pressing issues during their sit-down meeting before accepting the job.
“Number one, in my conservations with Mr. Sarver, I saw someone who didn’t duck the tough questions,” Williams said. “We both had tough questions for each other. And in this day and age where people throw each other under the bus, make excuses, blame, I didn’t see that. I saw a man who really wants to bring success to this city. I mean that will all my heart, or I wouldn’t have come. James and I are a lot alike. We just want to do the right things. I saw that with Mr. Sarver.”
With Sarver seemingly taking on a new role, one where he is positioning himself to take a step back from everyday operations and allowing Jones and Williams to have full autonomy could set the table for what’s to come next. Williams needed that buy-in from ownership, but the relationship he’s already formed with Jones is stronger than oak.
After Jones played under Williams one season as an assistant in Portland, he knew first-hand the traits he would bring to an organization. Following the one year together with the Trail Blazers, Jones went on to finish off his playing career with multiple championships while Williams worked his way through New Orleans, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and most recently Philadelphia before earning his second NBA head coaching gig.
“I had a previous relationship with Monty, so I had a head start as far as his basketball mind, his approach. Just the essence of him as a basketball guy,” Jones said of his first visit with Williams before hiring him. “But after our initial meeting, we talked about the championship habits. That’s where it lies for me. Championships come as a result of being great in the little things. And that’s just not verbiage that you throw around. You have to really believe it, and you have to understand how much work and energy goes into establishing those foundational principles within a team setting.
So, I had the chance to see it first-hand my time in Portland. And then you evaluate the teams Monty coached and was a part of, they all exhibited the same character traits. Focus on the fundamentals and championship habits. After our first meeting, I knew that if there was an opportunity to get him here that we had to do it. And I’m lucky we did it, and I’m lucky he believed what we believe.”
The connections are abundant for Williams within the Suns’ front office, not only with Jones but Senior VP of Basketball Operations Jeff Bower. Phoenix’s second in command behind Jones was the one who actually hired Williams to be the Hornets’ new head coach back in 2010.
What really sold Williams on Phoenix over other options available to him not only was the familiarity, but that aforementioned alignment now seemingly on all levels of the organization. If this is truly the case, coupled with the elite young talent present led by Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, stability will finally be a familiar word to throw around Suns headquarters.
“When we talked the first time, I was already excited the first time they called,” Williams said. “And then after our first conversation together, James and Jeff (Bower) and Trevor (Bukstein) and I just casually talked about the little things. It wasn’t like an interview. We just had a conversation. To have that kind of alignment led me to believe this could be a positive time for me and my coaching. And the potential here could be through the roof. Hopefully we fulfill that.”
Potential is definitely plentiful when the roster Williams is now coaching features upwards of nine players who will be under 25 years old next season. Instead of trying to short-circuit the process, it seems as if Jones and Williams are ready to embrace building the winning everyday habits from the ground up.
Jones preaches the importance of establishing these needed traits whenever he’s available to speak with us, and under Williams’ leadership those will need to be showcased immediately.
Again, it’s another breath of fresh air that the smaller, fine print details of team building are actually being honed in on. And as Williams let us know Tuesday, he’s already texted with Booker and Ayton while also meeting with Mikal Bridges and upcoming restricted free agent Kelly Oubre Jr.
“The players are going to have to embrace a level of work and commitment that it takes to be a champion,” Williams said.
One area that has been sorely lacking for the Suns over the years is building a culture conducive to player development and consistent winning efforts. Following four straight seasons with fewer than 25 wins, that aspect will be completely overhauled under the watchful eye of Jones. Williams knows how paramount this step is, too.
Winning pedigrees have been completely nonexistent for this franchise over the last several years. From 2016-2018, Phoenix was trying to intentionally lose games for a better shot at the No. 1 prospect in the draft. That will never be an occurrence under Jones and especially Williams.
The Suns’ new head coach can’t wait for the offseason period to get going not only so he can meet his players, but also use his own little wake up call. This summer period with Williams and his coaching staff won’t be a pushover. It’s going to be a battle where iron ultimately sharpens iron in the end. Building the right culture starts from the very beginning, which has the trickle-down effect to on-court activities.
“The culture has to take a leap this summer,” Williams said. “We can’t wait until October to take a leap in culture. It’s going to require our guys to embrace the little things. It’ll be a war of attrition this summer. Showing up on time, working hard, defending, sharing the ball, and having a high care factor are things that I believe allow you to build a culture. If you have a culture, then you can deal with the on-court stuff.
So, it’s not going to be easy. There’s no one formula for it. Different teams have different formulas, but this one I believe in. And James and I need to build a culture that we see fit. Our guys will embrace that.”
For a coach who has a style based around servanthood, a bright heart and warming personality that can relate well to players, Williams knows what he’s stepping into. From Day 1, he’s looking to put the people he serves in the best position to succeed.
“Maybe we’ve lost luster, but the tradition is still there,” Williams said of the Suns’ history.
If Phoenix hopes to revive the glory days around Booker, Ayton and other key contributors, it all starts at the very top with Jones and Williams. With both being completely on the same page about all ideologies, it’s a welcome first step into a new era of Suns basketball.
Watch the whole press conference here on suns.com