The Suns have a new kind of credibility. A real adult is in charge, in full control of the locker room.
That guy is Monty Williams, the new head coach who won his debut press conference in Phoenix without trying to impress anyone, while harping on his own flaws and previous weaknesses. That’s real talent and real leadership. That’s how it’s done.
But the biggest change with our NBA franchise revolves around three numbers.
The first is the No. 5. That’s the length of Williams’ contract in years. The second is the premium salary Suns owner Robert Sarver paid for Williams’ pedigree and experience. Together, they arm and empower the new head coach against all doubters and dissidents.
He’s proof you get what you pay for in the NBA.
“If you look at the commitment (Sarver) made to me and my family, that’s a huge commitment in this day and age,” Williams said. “There are coaches around the league who’ve won more than I have who haven’t gotten that kind of commitment … it says a lot about what he wants to do.”
But the biggest reason for optimism involves the numbers in Sarver’s cellphone, the ones he hasn’t used in years. They represent the phone call made to Jerry Colangelo, when Sarver asked the former Suns owner for his opinion on Williams.
You can’t quantify or overstate what this means to the Suns, Colangelo and an army of Suns fans yearning to feel special all over again.
During the years that Sarver has sailed alone, he rarely picked up the phone and called his predecessor. He never called for advice, and maybe that’s understandable. Or maybe it’s the pitfalls of pride, ego, jealousy and arrogance. Truth is, numerous situations and free agents came and went without Colangelo’s input, without advice from one of the most powerful men in the NBA, without enlisting the man who could help more than anyone else.
I have known Colangelo for over two decades. Like everyone else, I respect his story, his legacy and how he built the Suns into the best small-market franchise the NBA had ever seen. I’ve seen his anger, his clout and the respect he garners when walking into a room. And I’ve never met anyone with so much power who wields it so generously, so gracefully, for the betterment of others. All you have to do is ask.
It took a while for Sarver to get to that point. But he’s here now, and for Sarver to finally pick up the phone and call Colangelo for guidance is all I need to believe in a new era of Suns basketball.
Like Colangelo, I have fought many battles with Sarver. I have been highly critical of his meddling nature and he’s been highly critical of my work in return, once marching into the publisher’s office of the Arizona Republic to demand relief from their loudmouth sports columnist.
I have long wondered if his success and acumen as a businessman made him immune to his obvious shortcomings as a NBA owner. To wit: How does a man who buys a team for $404 million, only to see it expand into a $2 billion asset, look in the mirror and see failure?
But this sequence of events feels different. Maybe Sarver was prodded by NBA commissioner Adam Silver to cut the nonsense. All of these recent changes – from the hiring of Jeff Bower to the phone call placed with Colangelo – came after consecutive hit pieces from the national media that that painted Sarver in a terrible, petulant light, most notably the deployment of defecating goats in the office of former GM Ryan McDonough.
Maybe Sarver has grown tired of his previous self and all the losing. Because real change can happen with real self-awareness, real self-loathing and the real desire to find a better way.
“You can make excuses or you can make progress,” Williams said during an interview that had nothing to do with Sarver. “But you can’t do both.”
Williams is the perfect symbol moving forward. He gives the Suns a man who knows everything about the NBA experience. He’s anchored by his faith. He’s endured unspeakable tragedy, losing his first wife in a car accident. Kevin Durant adores him, and Williams’ presence in Phoenix almost guarantees the Suns a seat the table in Durant’s free agent recruitment, no matter how long the odds.
Somewhere along the line, the new coach clearly touched Sarver. During their interview in Philadelphia, Williams was so open about his shortcomings that it prompted Sarver to do the same. And Williams walked away feeling the call of duty, sincerely believing in Sarver’s intentions. He will liberate a locker room full of NBA players weaned on instability, who will finally know what it’s like to have a professional coach who can make a profound difference in their lives.
But for long-suffering Suns fans, nothing compares to the glorious end of the Cold War between Sarver and Colangelo, when the current owner finally felt comfortable enough to pick up the phone and call the icon who made all of it possible.
And when the day comes when Colangelo’s statue finally sprouts from the ground outside the arena, commissioned by Sarver himself, we will finally be healed, whole, unstoppable.
Reach Bickley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.