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Monty, Suns used break as opportunity for self-reflection

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With the coronavirus raging, the Suns took the week to focus on doing the right thing.

Phoenix Suns v Utah Jazz Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

What a week it was.

The Phoenix Suns’ seven days of hiatus were filled with uncertainty, postponements, and plenty of anti-Ayton Twitter arguments. An excited fan base was put on hold, watching and waiting for news of when their team would play again, which finally happened on Monday for the nationally televised MLK Day game despite the teams missing a handful of players due to COVID protocols.

We anxiously waited for the team to take the court once again, seeing as the 7-4 squad is the most promising team we’ve experienced in the social media era. But with every new notification came disappointment, including that MLK game itself.

Prior to Monday’s game vs. Memphis, the last time we saw Phoenix left a sour taste in our mouth. A 21-point loss to the lowly Washington Wizards will do that, you know.

You can’t blame us for wanting basketball. The 2020 hiatus birthed the Orlando Bubble. The Suns went 8-0. Add their hot start this season and they are 15-5 in their last 19 games. We are witnessing the turning point for an organization and the beginning of something special.

Without Suns basketball, what did you do? I’m sure at this point we’ve all become professionals at killing time. Some read, some write, some podcast, some binge. I personally have been powering through Mad Men. Whiskey, anyone?

What have the Phoenix Suns been up to? How do you mentally approach going from driving in the fast lane to pulling over and waiting for the storm to pass? How do you stay sharp, stay engaged, and stay focused?

Suns’ second-year head coach Monty Williams provided the answers to some of these questions as he spoke with reporters following their team practice in Memphis on Sunday afternoon.

When asked how he and the team felt navigating the postponements, Monty responded:

“There’s a number of things that we probably all felt. We were just waiting on the league to give us the okay to get back together. It was certainly something that was out of our control. We were trying to the best we could to inform the staff and players when we got information and then you just got to a point where you to advantage of the time away.”

“We were able to look at a lot of our data on how we played in the first 11 games, tweak a few things, have some discussions about our team. Had a lot of conversations with the players, trying to keep them informed. The training staff did an unreal job doing what they could to keep our guys locked in, conditioning, and quick twitch stuff.”

“We understood what the league was trying to do as far as keeping everyone safe. It’s just a different world we live in.”

I’m sitting here watching Don Draper cheat on his wife, Monty and crew are analyzing game tape and strategizing as how to improve. Monty get’s the W on that one.

Although you don’t want to have a random week off as your team is attempting to gel, the opportunity to step away could be seen as a positive. What made the Suns’ run in the Bubble so successful was just that: Monty had time to step back and look at his team from a 50,000 foot view. No longer did he toy with rotations and experiment with lineups. He and his staff analyzed, game planned, and executed.

On Monday, he changed up the starting lineup, putting Cameron Johnson out there to start with Jae Crowder coming off the bench. And he used Memphis’ small size to force the ball in to Ayton all game to varying results. It was still a loss, but Memphis always seems to have the Suns number eh? And really, who can plan on Devin Booker shooting 5 for 21, including missing a dunk?

So they did not solve all their problems. But the time away, from a coaching standpoint, may prove to be beneficial. Perhaps the coaching staff discussed methods to improve the first team’s approach. Hopefully someone raised their hand and suggested giving Langston Galloway more minutes when he scores 17 in the first half and gets 3 minutes in the second.

Williams went on the explain the challenges this past week has posed:

“This week wasn’t tough. The only thing I was concerned with was just keeping our guys safe. As a parent, I’m always thinking about guys with family members. That’s the only thing that was going through my mind and James’ mind and Robert’s mind. How we keep our guys safe and their families safe?”

“Our guys done a really good job on the road. They stay in the hotel, they play cards, video games, they get together. They haven’t been going out or doing any of that stuff that they normally could do. I felt bad because we got put in a situation that can happen to anybody. We just dealt with it.”

Those darn Wizards. I still don’t know how the NBA allowed Bradley Beal to play, seeing as he missed the Miami game due to ‘health and safety protocols’.

The leadership of this team is to be valued. This is a youthful core. It is hard to keep young millionaires from making bad decisions. Just look at Justin Bieber. He’s so lo-o-o-onely.

The structure, values, influence, and direction of Monty Williams has put the Suns in a position to control what they can control. Nothing more, nothing less. Were they penalized for the inaction of the NBA or the Wizards negligence? No. Because they can’t control that. The team isn't playing the victim.

They were provided direction that, in an effort to be safe, they will not play. And they acted accordingly.

On how confident Monty was knowing that the team most likely would be dealing with more postponements as the team navigates the coronavirus:

“It is a big deal because so many people have been affected by it. I think the way our guys have handled it gives me a lot of confidence. That’s the thing that I don’t take for granted I talked to our guys all week long.”

“Had all kinds of conversations with players and not one time did I hear anyone complain. They wanted to get back and play but they didn’t complain. That have me a level of confidence that if we had to go through this again our guys will know how to handle it.”

In the week the Suns stopped playing, the United States saw 1,131,170 newly reported COVID-19 cases. Tragically, 19,371 Americans lost their lives.

Read that number again. 19,371.

That is more American lives lost in the past week than Operation Iraqi Freedom, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Pearl Harbor. Combined. That is just Tuesday to Saturday.

This is no joke. Vaccines are out there and slowly being administered to the population. That does not mean it’s V-E Day and we should flock to the streets and celebrate the end of the coronavirus. Not even close. We have a long way to go. I’m thankful that we have any basketball to watch at all, given the circumstances and continual spike in cases.

Pardon my seriousness there, but this is serious and has been for nearly a year now. Back to your regularly scheduled Suns programming.

“Make no mistake, this is a huge, huge issue in our country. I know that everybody’s trying their best to handle it the best way they can and we as an organization have taken every precaution possible to keep everybody safe and that gives me a lot of confidence. When I see the measures that we’ve taken.”

“All of our family members and friends have opportunities to get tested and that’s huge. When you think about the cost, Robert’s done an unreal job of making sure that everybody that’s connected to our team can get tested. That gives you confidence.”

Boy, the culture has changed in Phoenix, hasn’t it?

Monty finished the press conference echoing the importance of how to properly approach their business during the pandemic:

“I said this at the beginning of this whole thing, we’re going to have to navigate uncertainty. We did that pretty well this week. I told our guys yesterday they did a heck of a job of not complaining, getting into the gym on their time slots and getting their work in, and going home. It’s something they should be commended for because our guys did a great job of handling this past week.”

As children we used to look up to basketball players as our role models (until Charles Barkley informed us he wasn't one). Our youthful exuberance made us want to emulate their actions and imitate their behavior. Now is our chance to once again do both.

So we missed a few basketball games. Big whoop. The team is safer. Their families are safe. Can they avoid further jackassery from other organizations? Most likely not. But with Monty Williams at the helm, teaching these young players how to approach their profession, I like their chances of taking care of themselves.

Focus on what you can control.