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Monty Williams shares reactions, possible adjustments to Chris Paul status before Western Conference Finals

Williams said the Suns’ practice schedule has not been affected by Paul’s absence

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NBA: New York Knicks at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Phoenix Suns starting point guard Chris Paul has entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols and is out indefinitely, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

It is unclear if Paul, who was named an All-NBA second-team selection on Tuesday, will miss time when the Suns begin the Western Conference Finals on Sunday or Tuesday, depending on the length of the semifinal series between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. Phoenix said in a statement on Wednesday that it would provide another update on Paul on Saturday.

If Paul cannot play for one or multiple games, the Suns will likely rely on backup point guard Cameron Payne for extensive minutes or add playmaking responsibilities to starting shooting guard Devin Booker. Backup guard E’Twaun Moore is also a veteran option off the bench who had a more significant role from late January to mid-March.

After Wednesday’s practice, Suns coach Monty Williams spoke about Paul’s absence and what it means for the team. Here’s a transcription of his comments below.

An update on Paul:

“I think the update has already been given. So there’s no need to talk about that any more — we’ve put a statement out and I’ve been pretty consistent when it comes to that kind of stuff. I’m not at liberty to talk about those situations.”

On the team’s reaction to Paul entering the health and safety protocols:

“It’s like anything else. When we’ve had guys in the past who have had it or have been in that situation where you got to go in the protocols, there’s a natural concern for the person. And that’s basically where it ends. The league is trying to do everything they can to keep individuals and teams safe, and it’s just a natural concern for an individual.”

If he has thought through the possibility of Paul not being available at any point in the conference finals:

“Thankfully, we’ve put ourselves in a position where we have time. But at the same time as a coach, I have to think through those scenarios and I’ve thought a lot about it. We haven’t made a decision just yet because we don’t have to, but it is a process for me to not only think about who starts, but the rotation after that. Because it can change a lot based on who you go with as a starter and how your bench rotation changes.”

If the Suns’ practice schedule and operation has been affected by Paul entering the health and safety protocols:

“Nothing’s been changed at all. We practiced yesterday, we practiced today, had a really good practice today. Got up and down, guys got a really good sweat. They’re actually still out there on the floor, so nothing has changed for us. We’re just trying to manage these days. I’ve talked to a number of coaches who have been in this situation, just to get information and how they’ve handled this much time off and that kind of thing. So we’re trying to keep a game rhythm as best we can.”

On what he tells the team after an incident like this:

“I try not to overthink things, and I try minimize — limit — the amount of information that I crowd the players’ minds with. Because right now, we’re in a situation where all we can do is practice and see what happens. So there’s a natural tendency to let your head spin a little bit, but I try not to do that, especially with our team. So there’s a goal in front of us, and we’re focused on that. And we’re hoping and praying that we’ll be whole again before we play Game 1. All we can do is the next right thing, and that’s what we did today. We had a really good practice.”

On what he learned about his team’s ability to play without Paul when he injured his shoulder in the first round against the Los Angeles Lakers:

“I think guys are always ready to play, especially in these moments. Now obviously, Chris Paul is not someone that you fill in for easily. But it’s the reason why your player development program is so important. We’ve had guys this year step up in big moments at that position, with Cam Payne to (backup guard) E’Twaun (Moore). Book has even played some point for us from time to time. So our guys are ready for the challenge, and everybody’s dealing with it. If you look around the league, Philly’s got a situation, the Clippers have a situation now, Utah’s had one for a while. Like, everybody’s dealt, so we don’t feel like we’re the only ones dealing with a situation when it comes to health and trying to stay healthy. It’s what you prepare for as a staff and as a team, and we feel like our guys are ready for whatever presents itself.”

On how he guides his team through the uncertainty of Paul’s status and when they will play next:

“It’s too much to try to handle all at one time, right? One of the things that we’ve said — if you’re nutty enough to listen me around here — we’re just going to do the next right thing. And that’s to focus on the next practice, next film session. I just left our gym — the spirit was unreal. Our guys understand that we’ve dealt with stuff this year, other teams have dealt with it. It’s just part of the NBA, and from an emotional standpoint, our guys turned the page, I think after we got home and the crowd was there. That was a pretty cool moment for the team but the next day, we got together, it was business as usual. Because the one thing that we said — we were never going to allow anything to change our culture. And we got back into the gym yesterday and it was a really good gym. We got some work in, everybody went home. So we’ve never — this is new for a lot our guys, being in this position. But as I’ve said to you, if we’re consistent with our culture and we come and get our work done every day, I think that’s something that we can hold on to and it gives us a level of stability, day to day.”

If the Suns are operating under the assumption that Paul won’t be available for Game 1:

“Not even going to go there until I have to, so there’s no reason for me to be pessimistic at all. We just have to wait and see what’s going to happen, and that’s pretty much all I can say about that.”

On how much dialogue he will have with Paul through him being out:

“I talk to Chris every day, and that’s pretty much how it’s been all year long. We’re talking about the game, things that we can do better as a team, family advice about stuff. He and I were both ticked off last night that Book wasn’t on the All-NBA team. That’s pretty much a joke, and I’m just beside myself that we didn’t have anybody on the all-defensive team. Those things we’ve talked about the last day or so, so to answer your question, Chris and I are always talking. It’s not only basketball — he’s a guy that I like to pick his brain, he’s always picking mine.”

If Payne’s preparation this week will change ahead of possibly receiving more minutes:

“I think the week will be fine. As I said, we don’t know what’s going to happen. But Cam has played with the starters a lot this year, so it’s not anything that he hasn’t done or he’s not used to. So that part won’t change.”

On how much the Suns’ ability to deal with COVID-19 testing this season and uncertainty will help with the situation around Paul:

“We’ve always had the mentality to not punt on third down around here. We don’t want to jump the gun before we have to or make a decision before we have to — we try to go about our business in a fashion that’s appropriate for the day. So for me, I have to think ahead with a number of scenarios, but I don’t want the players doing that. So we try not to fill their minds with too much information. Naturally, you think about stuff but there’s no reason to jump the gun and make a decision until you have to. I am a man of prayer, and I believe in times like this as it has been for the whole season, you have to have faith to get through the year the way that we’ve gotten through it. And these are moments where you need a lot of faith — we’re in the playoffs, and we’ve got a chance to win and win big. So my faith isn’t going to waver now because we’ve had a few obstacles. We’ve had obstacles all season long, and we’ve gotten through a lot of stuff. So you look forward to these challenges, you embrace them and you move forward.”

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