New Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams seems like a perfect hire. He is a great human being and appears to have an important synergy with new General Manager James Jones, as well as a healthy respect for the man who signs his paychecks.
But that’s not unique among Suns coaching hires. They are all great human beings. They all respect Robert Sarver and they all claim a synergy with their General Manager when they’re on the dais getting introduced to the local media. I would know. I’ve personally covered a handful of these.
What makes Williams unique is that he also comes to the Suns with more NBA head coaching experience (394 games) than all of general manager Ryan McDonough’s coaching hires put together (229 — Jay Triano), and more prior NBA head coaching experience than ANY Suns coach that came out of a coaching search since 1988, when Cotton Fitzsimmons was brought back to lead the Suns out of the muck of the drug scandals (note: Alvin Gentry was elevated from assistant to HC when Terry Porter was fired midseason 2009).
Consider that more closely.
Williams’ five seasons of coaching the Hornets/Pelicans doesn’t seem like a lot, but the Suns have not hired a coach with that much experience walking in the door since Cotton, spanning 12 different coaches over 31 years.
Staying on the Cotton train, it’s also true that no Suns coaching hire has brought as much playoff experience (Monty has two playoff appearances) since Cotton came back with seven in his pocket.
You can be forgiven for not knowing what to do with this information.
Twelve coaches since Cotton. None had as many regular season or playoff games coached as Williams does when they walked into the introductory press conference.
Only three of the 12 Suns coaches since Cotton carried the Suns as far as the Western Conference Finals (Paul Westphal, Mike D’Antoni, Alvin Gentry) while, among the other nine coaches, only Scott Skiles reached the second round and most never reached the playoffs at all.
Maybe it was time to break the wheel.
The two living Suns owners actually got together to discuss this next hire, and mutually agreed on Williams.
We don’t know if Monty Williams will be any good, but we do know that the old hiring methods were likely to fail.
We’ve been conditioned for generations not to hire “re-treads” but a lot of the time that’s just about money. Neither Colangelo nor Sarver have ever broken open the piggy bank to pay top dollar for a coach, yet now Monty Williams is armed with the longest contract Sarver has even given and very likely the highest salary any Suns coach has ever made.
While the foundation for the wheel-breaking was laid unintentionally by Ryan McDonough, the skill to convince Robert Sarver to make significant change was brought on by James Jones.
Sarver hired Jones to work in the front office two years ago, just weeks after he announced his retirement from the NBA as a player that culminated in seven consecutive NBA Finals appearances, including three championships.
The quiet Jones apprenticed under McDonough for a year, then took over the top job when Ryan was fired just days before a season in which his best-laid-plans rotation might have been his worst ever.
Now Jones has signed his top coaching target and they will spend the summer trying to build a roster in their image.
Let’s hope Monty Williams has great success, and one day Jones can boast he got it right the first time.