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Video/quotes: Suns coach Monty Williams went deep on several topics at Media Day 2022

Williams commented on the findings of the Robert Sarver investigation and being a “sounding board” for players to vent to

NBA: Playoffs-Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns
Monty Williams
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Here is what Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams said at the team’s Media Day on Monday morning.

On his offseason:

“I had a really good summer. Just a lot of family time, a lot of reflection. But it was longer than I wanted, and that bothered me from a professional standpoint. You try to get away from it but you’re always thinking about why our summer was so long. Why am I in this place and that place and why am I cutting down trees in Texas when I should be practicing? It was a productive summer and an eventful summer. I’m thankful for all of it. Because we’ve all grown and learned and had a chance to see life from different perspectives, for sure. It’s just been one of those summers that, quite frankly you’ll never forget. So from that standpoint, it’s been a good, long summer. A summer to learn from.”

On the findings of an investigation into Suns owner Robert Sarver, which included his use of the ‘N’ word:

“A lot like James, there was a bit of shock. There was a moment where I was in disbelief when you see the bullet points and then when you go through it. You start to think about how these things impacted people. How is it going to impact our team, the organization, the community? And James and myself and Morgan have had a ton of conversations about, ‘How do we handle this and deal with this in a way that’s productive but also sympathetic towards those who have been affected by all of this?’ So a number of emotions, but at the same time, you think about all the things. I have a white wife, my stepson is white and I have five Black children. Just thinking about them in a world where these kinds of things still happen and that bothered me. So I’m no different than you all. There was a range of emotions and states of mind that I dealt with.”

On Suns starting point guard Chris Paul, Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James and Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green speaking out on Sarver’s findings and how that may have led to him selling the team:

“It’s hard to say. I can’t speculate on that. But I do believe that these guys who these kinds of platforms have a right to their opinion, they have a right to assess in certain situations a way that they want to. That’s the beautiful part about our country and our sport. I think having been around Chris for so long, I know that he wants to be a voice for those that can’t speak up for themselves. I don’t know LeBron that way and Draymond that way, but I’ve been around those guys a little bit. I can’t say if it had an impact. Nah, that’s just not something I can assess.

On the impact Jae Crowder had on the team and the Suns working to trade him:

“No different than James. We ended the season not knowing that this was going to be the outcome. But I see it as an opportunity for us. Like James said, our guys have been in the gym because we’ve been off for so long getting ready. Not knowing that this outcome would be upon us. And we did have private conversations and those things will remain private. Just because I want to our guys know that anytime something comes up, they know that they can be themselves and they know they’re never going to hear it out in public, at least for me. That’s how we’ve always operated James and myself, from Day 1. We’ve had a number of issues that have come up. I mean, you’re going to lead a team for three years and go through the bubble and COVID and playoff runs and playoff hurts, you’re going to have some issues. But those things are going to always remain private. And we have a deep appreciation for our players, their families and our friends. And we want them to know they’re always going to be safely guarded publically when something comes up.

On how he conversed with his players about the Sarver report:

“I think we’ve always had the mindset to allow them to come to us, not forcing it on them. I think our players respect me a little bit, and I know that if I say something a certain way, it can affect them. So I’m careful with how I approach them, especially in situations like this. So we always left the door open for them to come to us. We’re in the gym a lot with our guys. I did get, or I did have phone conversations with the guys. Those things will remain private but for me, it was validating their emotions and feelings. Always letting them know that whatever they felt, it was cool. Because we come from different perspectives and worlds. I grew up in colonial Virginia. If you don’t know what that’s like, it’d be hard for me or I don’t have enough time to explain to you what that was like being Black in that environment. A lot of our guys have no idea what that was like. So for me to think they would feel the same way I felt, I think that’s irresponsible and me subjecting my past and going to them. So I try my best to be a sounding board and a listener, which my family may not agree with. But that was my way of allowing them to get it off their chest or at least talk about it. And then those organic conversations hopefully lead to something productive. That’s what we got to do, we got to be leaders and transition and be productive moving forward.”

On how Crowder impacted the Suns’ younger players over the last two years:

“He brought a number of intangibles to the team. I think of all of our guys would speak in that way about him. At the same time, these things happen and you have to transition and move forward. I totally am behind in James in how we are handling this. And again, all the stuff that went on behind the scenes will remain private. But I think all of our guys learned a ton from being around Jae.”

On the task of managing the Sarver situation as a leader of the franchise:

“I don’t think you can throw cliches and catchphrases on this one and be like, “Let’s move forward.” I think that’s somewhat irresponsible. I always talk about this being a, ‘Get to, not a got to.’ Not allowing anything to affect our gym. I don’t think we can do that in this situation. But I do think if we can continue to show a level of respect and love for one another, we can move forward the right way. I think that will enhance our culture. I think it’s going to bring us closer together. But I don’t believe you just can throw some goofy phrase that I’ve come up with over the past three years and say, ‘Let’s bring it in and move forward.’ I don’t think that’s fair to the situation and certainly not sensitive to the people that have been affected.”

On Deandre Ayton returning to Phoenix:

“I echo what James said. There was never a conversation where we were going to let him go. I was on the road somewhere and I knew that Indiana made an offer sheet and James was like, ‘We’re matching right away.’ There was a sense of relief there because of what he’s meant and the thing that people don’t see is how much he’s been in the gym and how much better he’s gotten this summer. I think having all that stuff behind him has given him a sense of relief. I think when players know you want them around and value them, it gives them confidence. That doesn’t mean you don’t have situations that come up. That’s part of coaching and part of being on a really good team with competitive players. I agree with James, I agree with what he just said. There isn’t a scenario where we felt like he wasn’t going to be around. He’s just too good of a player and he’s good dude. There’s times where you bump heads on certain issues, but that doesn’t define a person in totality. I think sometimes, that stuff just gets blown out of proportion and rightfully so when you don’t get all the facts.”

On Sarver’s use of the ‘N’ word, according to investigation reports, his emotions from the findings and if he considered leaving Phoenix:

“It’s a lot to unpack. I probably will forget some of it. But in reference to that word, I don’t like it, I never have. Especially when I was younger and I learned what the word meant. I learned how demeaning it was towards humanity, not just Black folks. And when I saw the report, I was not happy about it. Quite frankly, disgusted. It is not a word you repeat any time. And when you read the report and you read the bullet points and you see it over and over again in that way, it bothers you. At the same time, I know there’s a different generation in young people that are 20, 30 years younger than I am that have a different perspective about that word. It’s become a socially accepted word. I don’t think that’s something that we should bow down to. And when you run into situations like this, you realize why. Because the word is demeaning in every facet. Did I ever think about leaving here, was this place the right place for me? Not one time. Just not my nature, not my makeup that when you have these kinds of challenges, you jump ship because it’s a bit uncomfortable. I felt like it was something to embrace. Certainly, a way to learn, a way to convey what you know to people that may have a different perspective. I always try to take all of these things and take them back to my children and try to teach them to be open-minded in some areas but to be somewhat staunch in their beliefs in others. And I think as it relates to respecting people, loving people, giving people a level of integrity, dignity for being human, I think that’s where you draw a hard line. And I tell my kids all the time, my ceiling is their floor. And as a leader and as a man of faith, I feel the same way about our team. And I think when you use words like that, you take away those platforms to help people. Because you demean them. And so I struggle with it like many of you have, no doubt about it. And you read it and you process it and for me, I prayed about it a ton and I was just trying to figure out like, ‘How can I add value? When I came here to Phoenix, that was my No. 1 goal was to add value. And when you run into challenges like this, I have to go back to that. Like, how can I add value. And the one way I know how to add value is to love and serve people. No matter what their color, where they come from, their gender, whatever. It’s to love and serve them.”

If it’ll be more challenging to focus on basketball with the Sarver reports:

“It’s hard to say. The NBA season is challenging anyway, right? I believe our guys are sensitive to this situation. They have a great deal of sympathy for the people that have been affected, but they also know that culture and playing well can help ease some of the pain. It won’t take it away, but I know that they know that. So I think it’s going to energize us. We start tonight at five o’clock with our first meeting and I think that’s going to give us a (inaudible). If we play well, we play hard and we play the way that we have played and improve, it can ease some of the pain that many people have felt.”

On an opportunity for forward Cam Johnson to establish himself as a starter with Crowder moving on:

“We’ll see. Nothing’s changed from that standpoint.”

If he has any additional plans for Ayton offensively:

“I wouldn’t say it’s a total remake of what we do. I think there’s some wrinkles in what we do that will allow for some of his talents to show more. But it’s not just him. I think as Duane (Rankin from The Arizona Republic) alluded to, Cam and (starting forward Mikal) Bridges, their ability to do some things — and it’s not just a scoring thing. I think one of the things that I did not do a good job of last year was allow for other guys to grow in their ability to initiate offense, which takes a lot of pressure off Chris which allows him to be fresher. So yeah, I think there’s some wrinkles that we certainly are going to explore to try to take advantage of DA’s ability to score in the mid-range, taking threes from the top of the key, corner threes. Those are things that I’ve watched him work on this summer. So to answer your question, we certainly have talked about it a ton this summer.”

If he feels more apprehension with the Sarver findings and Crowder’s situation:

“No, I don’t think so. I think we’ve had — there was pressure when I first got here to try to help this organization move forward. When I came down the escalator and saw the people waiting at the press conference, I was taken aback by that. I understood the fan base and the expectation here was a bit different. So that tuned me up right away. And then each year as our guys have gotten better, it brought more pressure and it brought more expectations. And I’ve learned to embrace that in this role. If you don’t have those things, you’re probably not playing for the thing that you should be playing for. Training camps are different, media days are different. Just because of what happened or transpired the year before, things that have happened over the summer. That makes it a bit different but once I leave here today, it’s pretty much back to like the normal grind for us in training camp. We’ll have our meeting tonight, we’ll set the tone for what we want to do and we get to get back in the gym and hoop. And I say that with a level of sensitivity, because I don’t want to say we’re just going back to playing basketball and we’re going to forget about the people that have been affected. I want that to be known. And so from that standpoint, yeah, that might be the difference. But as far as basketball, man our guys are ready to go. As James said, you guys haven’t seen it. But having a long summer like this, you’re going to see some bodies that are different. Because this is the first normal summer we’ve ha since I’ve been here. And it has paid dividends for sure. So I think from that standpoint it’s normal, but there is a big difference in what has transpired over the summer.”

If he has more insight on the Suns’ Game 7 loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2022 Western Conference semifinals:

“I’m pretty consistent and have been, like, I just didn’t have our guys ready to play. That falls on me, I will never go back on that. When you look at the numbers, you look at the film, you look at the situation, that falls on me. And I’m not saying that to use that fake humility nonsense that often comes up. That’s the only thing I could go back to. We missed shots, they played really well. But everything was in our favor to have a Game 7 on your floor after the season we had. At the same time, I was not going to allow that game to define us. As James said, it was a disappointment but the season wasn’t disappointing. I had to flush that, if you will, and remember all the good stuff that we did last year and do my best, along with the staff, to try to improve upon that.”

On reports of the Suns’ having a COVID-19 outbreak during that series:

“I can’t speak to that nor am I — I don’t think I can legally speak on that. It’s a medical situation. I can’t speak on that but I will say this. They beat us. They handily beat us in a Game 7. They took care of home court. There were some blowouts, guys played well. But they beat us. I’m a no-excuses, no-explanation person. I don’t have any excuses about that particular game or that series.”

On his biggest concerns on the roster heading into training camp:

“I like our team. I’ve been with these guys for weeks. We’ve had more guys in our gym this summer than any time since I’ve been here. It’s been a longer summer and a more normal summer. I think the improvement of guys that were already good is going to be something that we can hold on to and get excited about. The possibilities of getting (backup forward) Dario (Saric) in a role, maybe a different role. Having (backup center) [Bismack Biyombo] back. (Backup forward) Jock (Landale) is somebody that has been a player that’s got our coaches really excited. And when I watch him play, I can see his ability and how he could help us this year. And (backup wing) Damion (Lee) is just a player that any team around the league would want to have on their squad. And (backup guard) Josh (Okogie), and then we have guys like (backup guard) Duane (Washington Jr.) who’s been in our gym for a couple of months. I was surprised that we could even get a guy like him. So we got a bunch of new guys, but we have guys that I feel like are going to give me some tough decisions to make. We’ll see how it all plays out. Yeah, we’ve lost some guys, but every team does. In the summer time, you’re going to lose guys. And at the same time, I’m certainly appreciative of the guys that were with us last year, the guys that have moved on. But we do have some guys in our gym that have gotten us excited and I think our fan base is going to be really excited when they see those guys on the floor.”

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