Make no mistake about it: The Phoenix Suns will head to Orlando next week with every intention of winning games and making the playoffs. The odds are not in the favor, Williams admitted, but they nevertheless are dedicated to trying.
Williams said he’s relayed it to Suns players as an opportunity that they were able to even be in consideration for the playoffs, and a step in the right direction for the organization. It’s with that mindset that the Suns will enter the bubble and get to work, with everyone besides Kelly Oubre Jr. expected to travel to Orlando.
Right now, the Suns are still working out under severe restrictions at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, though Williams was finally allowed in the building to oversee workouts in recent days.
“It’s almost like a Summer League, what we’re doing now,” Williams told media on a virtual conference call Wednesday.
The workouts are pretty simple, and 5-on-5s are still prohibited. Still, he’s impressed with the progress players made on their own. Williams compared it with what he’s typically seen from rookies after the summer between their first and second NBA seasons. After all, this break has lasted nearly as long as a typical offseason.
In particular, Williams noted the physical improvements from Cameron Johnson, whom Williams said appeared to have gained some muscle since the shutdown.
Monty says he was "blown away" by the physical improvements Cam Johnson made since the shutdown.— Brendon Kleen (@BrendonKleen14) July 1, 2020
"It looked like, and I could be wrong, that he added some muscle."
Among the other changes, of course, is the signing of guard Cameron Payne, who was drafted by the Thunder in 2015 when Williams was a coach there.
“(OKC GM) Sam Presti doesn’t make mistakes,” Williams said in explaining why the organization added Payne, who spent most of the 2019-20 season in the G League.
The coach hopes Payne’s quickness and passing ability, which he studied in Payne’s G League film, will lend well in the Suns’ up-tempo system.
“He’s not in a position where he’s earned anything from us, but he’s gonna have an opportunity to earn a spot in the rotation,” Williams said. “It’s going to be a high level of competition once we get to Orlando.”
On Cameron Payne, Monty Williams says, "I just feel like Cam is a guy that probably should be in the NBA, and if you look at what he did in the G League, he's got a burst and a feel for the game that's hard to teach."— Brendon Kleen (@BrendonKleen14) July 1, 2020
Like Payne’s opportunity, it seems Williams is treating the restart as a blank slate for all. The goal is to win, but that doesn’t mean the team is resting on its laurels. In order to win, the Suns will adapt and change.
“You may see some things that are a bit different, but that’s not just for the sake of being different, it’s because we want to win games,” Williams said.
The team will use its three scrimmages in mid-July as trial runs for everything from minutes to role to lineups. Without Oubre, there will be a need for minutes on the wing that will be filled by the likes of Johnson and Mikal Bridges as well as maybe more three-guard lineups that could include Payne, who is 6-3.
While Williams admitted the mental refocusing and adaptation to the bubble will be a difficulty for everyone, he believes in his team’s maturity and competitiveness. Leave it to the Suns’ great communicator to redefine these bizarre circumstances as a privilege rather than a waste.