PHOENIX — When attending a media availability at the Phoenix Suns’ practice facility, media will sit in the lobby until the team has wrapped up and is ready to open it up. The seating area is about 15 feet away from the entrance to the court through two sets of doors.
We can’t see anything, but faint sounds of cheering and yelling can be heard from time to time.
On Monday, however, there was a roar that vibrated through the walls. At first, I foolishly thought it was pumped-in fake crowd noise. It was at least five times louder than any other noise I had heard from the practice court.
Then, after a few seconds of thinking about it and a suggestion from 12 News’ Cameron Cox, of course: Monty Williams just got named Coach of the Year.
“This is so stinkin’ cool.”
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) May 9, 2022
The pandemonium of winning a championship would be the only thing that would come close. That’s how much Williams’ players care about him, just like how much he cares about them, and that bond is part of what has made Williams’ time in Phoenix so special.
“It’s probably more important than everything that we do,” he said Monday of the relationships with his players. “From the Xs and Os to the drills to sometimes even playing games. I’ve probably lost out on jobs because people thought that I was more interested in the relationship piece than I was the competition piece and I think they both go hand and hand.
“To be in a position where I can naturally grow with our guys from a relationship standpoint is huge for me and the fact that they allow me to do it is something that I don’t take for granted. I know our players’ families in a natural, real way to a degree. When I see them, I think they know that we care about them and we as a staff feel that they care about us because of the attention we give their sons.
“So for me, it makes the winning and all of the experiences that much better when you have great relationships with your players and their families and the staff that we work with.”
There was a similar type of reaction Williams told us about from last season.
When it was announced Williams had finished second in the voting, he was in his office with the door cracked open. Before he had time to even react himself, he heard his players in the locker room absolutely furious.
“They were so stinkin’ upset and ticked and there was some things said, and I was like, that was enough for me,” Williams said on March 28. “I didn’t need anything else. I didn’t need an award. I didn’t need validation. That was what did it for me, and I feel the same way.”
To be clear, Williams should have won last year. He has arguably the top case for this season too but various voters have already admitted part of putting him first has to do with making up for the mistake the year prior. Would he have won it two years in a row, like he did in the award voted on by his peers?
I don’t know. Probably not. If you haven’t figured it out by now, how we think about awards in terms of who deserves it and why is incredibly stupid. It just is.
Would Devin Booker have become a nationally-known MVP candidate and likely First Team All-NBA selection if Chris Paul didn’t injure his thumb and miss a month? I don’t know. Probably not.
So, getting by all those semantics to what matters to Williams, it’s the aforementioned peers and his own players.
Williams said he hopes when he’s moved on and fishing on his land in Texas that he’s still receiving texts from his players, photos of their growing families and updates on how their lives are going. Just like he did and does with his former coaches such as Taft Hickman at Potomac High School in Maryland, Digger Phelps and John MacLeod at Notre Dame, Jeff Van Gundy with the New York Knicks, the San Antonio Spurs’ Gregg Popovich and so on.
“All of those relationships are golden for me,” he said. “They have enhanced my life in ways that I can’t even express. That’s the brotherhood of not just the NBA but of basketball in general.”
What makes Williams such a fantastic coach is those relationships he has established with those players, relationships built on trust in both directions. Whenever you have a question about a certain rotation choice Williams makes that seems questionable, I feel safe in betting that most of the time it comes back to that trust and the long-term benefit as opposed to 150 seconds in the early fourth quarter of a one-possession game.
Williams is always having conversations with his guys, and a good chunk of ’em aren’t even about basketball.
He called Paul on Sunday night after Paul’s family was harassed at American Airlines Center in Dallas to see how he was doing. The basketball conversations on what comes next for Game 5 of their second-round series started on Monday at practice.
In an industry that we so often hear is “just a business at the end of the day,” Williams really cares about his players. That’s not to say other coaches don’t but there’s a genuine nature to what Williams does day in and day out that spreads throughout the organization.
When he was asked what he wants his legacy to be as a coach in this league, that’s what he brought up first. Not individual accolades or championships.
“I hope they know how much I cared about them as people,” he said. “Their games, their aspirations, that’s it. The Xs and Os, the wins and losses, all that stuff is pretty cool but if I walk away from this and our players and the people that I’ve had a chance to work with know that I cared about them in a unique way. Not just a ‘wassup dog’ or ‘how you doing’ in a superficial way.
“I hope that they know that, not just me, but our staff and (general manager) James (Jones), we care about them, their families, their hopes and dreams, that’s it. You could win a lot of games but if you don’t have that kind of relationship with the people that you’re with every day, I think it’s pretty boring and I hope our players understand that as much as we want to win, we also care about them as people.”