PHOENIX — Every now and then, an introductory press conference for a coach is going to produce warning signs. Most of the time, though, it’s encouraging to hear a new perspective and what that coach is planning to bring to the organization.
The latter was the case with Monty Williams, the new head coach of the Phoenix Suns.
And that was to be expected, but to be fair to Williams and his pedigree as a person and leader, it was more about what he said he changed in his coaching style and the basketball philosophies he has adopted.
It’s clear that Williams is not afraid to go off current NBA trends. He constantly referenced what was going on in the playoffs throughout his 30-plus minutes of speaking at his introductory press conference on Tuesday.
The first area he addressed was the DNA of his offense. He wants the Suns to play fast, but that doesn’t mean sprinting up and down the floor.
“There’s nothing proven that says rushing the ball down the floor leads to wins,” he said. “Pace is playing quickly with the ball and under control. Either shoot it, drive it or move it. But holding the ball, if you watch the playoffs, anytime a guy holds the ball you allow the defense to get into a load position and it’s easier to guard.”
Williams brought up the way the Golden State Warriors swept the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals despite trailing more in the series than they led and making multiple comebacks in the fourth quarter. He believes that’s because of something he saw the San Antonio Spurs do time after time.
“One of the things I did learn in San Antonio is they had a wear-down effect,” he said. “The ball movement, player movement would wear teams out and then in the fourth quarter they would take that Spurs push and they’d be up by 10-15 and the game would be over.”
The Suns have the right centerpiece for this strategy in 22-year-old guard Devin Booker. He can run your offense or spend time off the ball, and Williams said he wants Booker to do both. That’s why Williams said Booker can play in the playoffs, which by the way, was another refreshing thing to hear that Williams already looks at players and labels them by whether or not they can survive in the most elite settings.
An issue, however, is who else the Suns trust to make those rapid basketball decisions with the ball consistently besides Booker. That casts an extra spotlight to what they do in the NBA Draft and free agency/trade market.
But that direction offensively is not to say this is exactly what the team will do. Williams is going to wait and see how that offseason plays out, a lesson he learned from his five years coaching the New Orleans Hornets in a different way.
The first year of that was with a veteran group ready to make the playoffs.
“It taught me a different way to coach,” Williams said, noting he was less involved and used an example of letting his point guard Chris Paul often call the offense himself.
But then New Orleans blew it up.
“When we got the younger team, I was way more hands-on, even to the point of practicing with the guys at times because I just felt like I had to show them how to play or how to do certain things,” he said. “It really taught me how to adjust to the roster.
“That’s why I said our style of play will be based on who we have. I think it would be irresponsible of me to force a style on the team that doesn’t fit and so as soon as we know what team we’re going to have, (general manager) James Jones and I will sit down and talk about that.”
When Williams was asked how he has evolved since New Orleans, he didn’t shy away from being honest.
“I thought I had the answers,” he said. “I was a lot younger, probably more brash, more stubborn. Now I’m starting to figure out the questions. I’m probably in a place in my life where I’m more apt to listen and delegate more.”
Williams had a reputation for butting heads and it sounds like he’s grown from that.
“I understand the difference between telling someone the truth and embarrassing them and that [used to be] one of my flaws in New Orleans,” he said.
That’s kind of important for a coach with such a young team that is going to screw up a lot and have to shake off losing habits from the past few seasons.
If all of these quotes you are reading feel unfamiliar in a certain way you can’t really put a finger on, well, they should. The Suns haven’t hired a coach that could improve on their past mistakes as an NBA coach since Alvin Gentry in 2010, four full-time head coaches ago. That’s because Igor Kokoskov, Earl Watson and Jeff Hornacek didn’t have any past experience to build off.
Williams does, and that along with the “championship habits” Jones mentioned shouldn’t make any optimistic Suns fan feel paranoid about believing in the job Williams can do in building up a talented, young roster from the bottom.
“There’s so much room to grow,” he said of everyone involved. “I think we have a young team that’s learning how to win and they will and I have to do my job.
“I have to enhance the strengths but be honest about our weaknesses and get the players to consider a new way of doing some things … I think I’m here at the right time and I’m here with the right people.”