Monty Williams is a great man, a promising coach, and someone who deserves to be in charge of an NBA team. Forgive me if I don’t believe the Suns are the organization who will reap the benefits of his talents. Williams agreed to become Phoenix’s new coach Friday, and the otherwise sensible hire is undercut by the Suns’ recent history of false starts.
Jeff Hornacek, winner of 48 games in 2014, was seemingly a good coach. Igor Kokoskov, a hot name on the coaching market, was a smart hire until management changed course and dumped him after one season. Williams will be the Suns’ fourth coach in three years, and though he’s been given the financial security of a five-year contract, the constant turnover in his position is emblematic of how poorly this team is run.
Phoenix makes sense on paper. The organization has a good history. The pieces on the roster—Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton—have potential. The cap sheet is clean. In practice, everything starts to fall apart. Booker is entering the first year of a max deal next season, and he’s yet to prove he can have a significant impact on winning. The front office is run by relative newcomer James Jones, who has already been on the receiving end of some biting criticism. And Robert Sarver is widely considered one of the worst owners in sports for his constant meddling and bizarre decision making.
Maybe Williams can be the person to turn all of this around, but it’s a daunting task, and it’s certainly a risky play for someone who was a popular name on the coaching market. Williams’s own head coaching career is also a little bit of a mixed bag. He was in New Orleans for five years (the last three of which were with Anthony Davis), and he made the playoffs only twice, losing in the first round twice. That doesn’t mean Williams isn’t a capable coach, but for someone looking to take a step forward, the Suns present some challenges.
Moving forward, for its own and for Williams’s benefit, Phoenix needs to be clear about its objectives. Is the roster still in rebuilding mode? When will it be realistic to expect to compete for a playoff spot? What will the front office be judged on, and is that criteria the same for the head coach? The Suns have been atrocious for years, and in the same time frame, the league has seen teams like the Sixers, Nets, and even Kings undergo full rebuilds that have led to much more promising situations than they started with. Even with Booker and Ayton, it was shocking any time Phoenix won a game last year, and the team quickly cut bait on the plan to surround the younger players with veterans.
Obviously, part of the Suns’ goals moving forward should include having a good coach in charge of the roster. But that’s only one piece of the puzzle. For this hire to actually be a home run, the infrastructure in place around Williams also needs an improvement. The front office could use more experienced voices. Sarver needs to stop being hyper involved. And a sensible plan needs to be put in place that isn’t immediately scrapped because of impatience. (Though the fans shouldn’t be blamed for losing their patience years ago.) The Suns were smart to target Williams. But they’ve also made smart coaching hires in the recent past. Williams, for all his promise, won’t be able to move the needle if everything else about the organization remains the same.