Suns training report: on COY, playoff experience and Ayton, camera preparation
When he was fired as head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans After the 2014-15 season, Monty Williams said he prayed that if he led an NBA team again, it would be in a city he values with a chance to compete at a high level.
Six years later, it appears Williams’ prayer has been answered. He was named Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year on Tuesday after a season in which he led the Phoenix Suns to their first place in the playoffs since 2009-10 with a 51-21 record, good for the second best score in the Western Conference.
During a Zoom call with local reporters, Williams said he was “humbled” and “overwhelmed” to receive the award and thanked Suns owner Robert Sarver and general manager James Jones, among others, for the achievements of his team.
“I’m grateful to Robert and James for giving me this chance, and God has blessed me in so many ways,” Williams said. “It’s just another example of that and it’s really cool for the organization because it really reflects a number of efforts and sacrifices on the part of so many people. Players, n ° 1, our staff, they squeak every day.
“And the people who work in this building and downtown, like this one, are a residual effect of a lot of effort. This part is a little embarrassing that you can have your name there like that, it’s definitely a team effort. And for that, I’m grateful to be a part of this organization and the journey we’re on.
When Williams was hired by the Suns in May 2019, he was tasked with ending a playoff drought that spanned nine seasons, including more years in which Phoenix finished at the bottom of the Western Conference ( four) that he did not finish with a record or. 500 or better (two).
After a 19-63 campaign under former coach Igor Kokoskov in 2018-19, Williams and the Suns made big improvements with a 34-39 finish in 2019-20, including an 8-0 record in the NBA Bubble in Orlando who almost broke their playoff slippage. This season, Phoenix has left no doubt about its playoff spell, winning 43 of its last 56 games after an 8-8 start to the season, leading to its first Pacific Division title since 2006-07.
Suns guard Chris Paul played a season for Williams with the then-nominated New Orleans Hornets in 2010-11 and has continually praised their relationship this year. He reaffirmed his support for Williams on Tuesday, saying he “absolutely deserved” the award for his efforts in the Suns’ turnaround.
“I think it’s his attention to detail,” said Paul of what makes Williams a great coach. “Its values, its discipline. I think about the way he approaches everyday. And I hate to say, “I told you,” but it had a lot to do with why I wanted to come and play here. Because I knew the attention to detail and the discipline he would need.
Even though he’s only been with the Suns since late March, forward Torrey Craig said Williams has clearly expressed his confidence in his players. After averaging just 2.5 points and 2.4 rebounds in 11.2 minutes per game through 18 contests with the Milwaukee Bucks, Craig found an important role with Phoenix, totaling 7.2 points and 4.8 boards per contest on 50.3% of shoots in 32 games, including eight starts.
“He believes in every guy on his list, from one to 17,” Craig said. “He tells you that and once you’re there he just gives you the confidence to play freely, and I think that’s been a big part of why we had the season that we had.” .
Without the City of Phoenix, however, Williams said his ability to lead the Suns to success would not have been possible. He mentioned areas “that have been a huge blessing to me” outside of basketball, including his children’s school, home and church in Scottsdale, and the connection with Harvest Compassion Center, Phoenix Rescue Mission. and Phoenix Suns Charities, among other state organizations.
His ability to coach the Suns has been one of the many benefits, he said.
“The people here have been, even this year when I haven’t been a lot, when I got the chance to go out, the people here have been really nice and courteous,” Williams said. “That’s all you can ask for and then you add the time and the quality of life here on either side of town I’ve been to, and that’s pretty cool. And you want to be in a place that their team loves. And the Suns’ fan base is second to none. ”
At the end of his press conference, Williams said he hopes to be in a place like Phoenix for a long time and take the opportunity to win. This goal will continue for the Suns on Sunday, when they start their playoff series against either. the Los Angeles Lakers or Golden State Warriors in the first round.
Williams is generally quick to dismiss any recognition for himself and his team and insists there is still work to be done. That’s true for the Suns, but he’s made sure to appreciate what they’ve accomplished so far.
“What has happened here is an unreal blessing,” said Williams. “No one expected us to be in this position, and for that I’m really, really grateful.”
Cameron Johnson and Deandre Ayton set to return for the playoffs
When asked if Suns starting center Deandre Ayton and backup winger Cameron Johnson were on track to be available for Sunday’s playoff opener, Williams replied “we believe it” and indicated that this will be one of their biggest goals over the next few days.
“We’re going to do whatever we can to get these guys ready,” Williams said. “I don’t want to get ahead of today when it comes to our situation and these guys, but we think we’re doing everything we can to get these guys ready for the playoffs, and that’s our number one goal these two guys.
Ayton has not played the Suns’ last three regular season games due to left knee pain. He and starting forward Mikal Bridges were previously the only Phoenix players not to miss a game this season.
Johnson has missed the Suns’ last six contests with a sprained right wrist. He was seen with a cast in recent games and had it taken down on Monday, Sarver told the Burns & Gambo Show on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
Phoenix has not had overwhelming health problems since mid-February, when several rotating players were absent due to injuries or health and safety protocols. He will need Ayton, who ranks among the top 15 players in the NBA in terms of defensive rankings according to Statmuse, and Johnson, a well-known 3-point shooter and main bench player, to be as healthy as possible to help their efforts beat the Lakers or Warriors, who each have championship experience.
Paul and Craig prepare for another playoff run
When the Suns traded for Paul this offseason, they made it clear that they were actively pursuing a rival list. A few days before the playoffs, they will need his experience more than ever.
Paul is one of three Phoenix players to have made at least 30 playoff games in his career, along with Craig and starting forward Jae Crowder. As the Suns slowly progressed to their first playoff game on Sunday, Paul said he was happy with his individual performance and his health during the regular season, but was ready for his team’s next step.
“I think at this point in my career I think one of the biggest things I’m probably most proud of is being available,” said Paul. “I think that’s a talent in itself, it’s just being available for your team. So given the regular (seasonal) schedule we had, I think I did a really good job taking care of my body and making sure my body is ready to play every night. Now I’m getting ready for the playoffs.
“As far as efficiency and everything else, that’s what I’m waiting for. When you do the job, you expect it to happen. ”
Paul also shared his enthusiasm for his older brother, CJ, to be in attendance for the Suns playoffs after being able to attend a limited number of games during the regular season.
“I think in my whole career I might have missed a playoff game that I played,” said Paul. “Maybe one or two, at home or away. And given the crazy schedule of the season, my brother may have only been in one home game this season, maybe two games on the road. I’m really excited for him to come here and be at playoff games because it’s been a constant for me for 16 years with my brother being there.
Craig appeared in 33 postseason games as a member of the Denver nuggets and said he has sought to help prepare the Suns for the set in their final regular season games. He’s hoping it’s something that will help his squad when he starts his playoffs shortly.
“We talked about it in the game groups, like, ‘Hey, this is what the playoffs look like. Hey, we need a stop here, ”Craig said. “Change in momentum, we have to find a way to respond to their run. So we were already trying to experience playoff moments at the end of the regular season just to prepare the guys who haven’t gone through that yet. And it’s not quite the same, but it’s as close to the playoffs as it gets.
Check out the Suns ‘first-round playoff opponent tonight when the Lakers host the prime-time Warriors in the Play-In tournament pitting the 7th and 8th best records for the Suns’ first-round right to face the Suns on Sunday. The time and television coverage of the Suns game will be decided once the opponent has been determined.
Ed. Note: Please welcome Trevor’s booth to the Sympa team! Trevor joins us from the Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU. Trevor has been covering Arizona Sports for Cronkite for years, including your Phoenix Suns.