The Phoenix Suns waited less than two days after an embarrassing exit from the playoffs before they fired head coach Monty Williams.
Williams led the Suns to a trip to the 2021 NBA Finals. The Suns secured the best record in the NBA last season when they won a franchise-record of 64 wins in the 2021-22 season. The Suns still dismissed Williams after two crushing eliminations in the Western Conference semifinals in consecutive seasons.
We are filled with gratitude for everything Monty has contributed to the Suns and to the Valley community,” said general manager James Jones in an official statement. “While it was difficult for me to make this decision, I look forward to continuing the work to build a championship team.”
In four seasons as the head coach of the Suns, Williams led them to two Pacific Division titles, and he won the 2022 NBA Coach of the Year.
Williams posted a 194-115 record during the regular season. He led the Suns to three-straight postseason berths, but they were only 27-19 under Williams in the playoffs.
Another Disappointing Playoff Exit by the Suns
The Suns were the #1 seed in the Western Conference last season, and they were knocked out of the playoffs by the Dallas Mavericks in the conference semifinals. The Mavs demolished the Suns in Game 7, and the Suns suffered the largest blowout in am elimination game in NBA playoff history. The Suns were down by over 40 points at their lowest point, and the Mavs cruised to a 33-point victory.
The Suns were eliminated from this year’s postseason in another demoralizing fashion. The Nuggets opened a 30-point lead against the Suns in Game 6 of the conference semifinals. The Nuggets won by 25 points, and advanced to the Western Conference Finals.
The exit was a shock to fans after the Suns added superstar Kevin Durant to the roster. The Brooklyn Nets traded Durant prior to the deadline in mid-February for a huge haul. The Suns gave up four first-round draft picks and several key role players in exchange for Durant and T.J. Warren.
The Suns upgraded their offense with Durant but sacrificed their top defender in Mikal Bridges. They also traded away their sixth man, Cam Johnson, and a valuable “3 and D” player in Jae Crowder.
Durant appeared in only eight games in the regular season with the Suns due to a sprained ankle.
Williams the Scapegoat for Banged-Up Suns?
The short-handed Suns did not have point guard Chris Paul in the lineup for four games against the Nuggets after he sustained a groin injury in Game 2. Center Deandre Ayton also missed Game 6 with a contusion to his ribs.
Without two starters, the Suns lost to the Nuggets by 25 points in an elimination game on Thursday.
“I take that personally, not having our team ready to play in the biggest game of the year,” Williams told reporters after the loss in Game 6. “That’s something that I pride myself on and it just didn’t happen. That’s something I have to take a deep look at, everything I’m doing.”
Owner Mat Ishbia, who bought the Suns for $4 billion in December, did not waste much time before he fired Williams.
Williams, a former NBA player, is considered a “players’ coach” and he developed a tight bond with his players. He never got on the same page with Ayton, and the two clashed last season. They worked out their differences in the offseason, but the rest of the team adored playing for Williams.
“I love him,” said Durant. “He’s just a great teacher of the game. Great with people.”
Shooting guard Devin Booker had a sensational run in the playoffs by averaging 33.7 points per game and shooting 50.8% from 3-point range. Durant put up decent numbers (29.0 points, 8.7 rebounds per game) in the playoffs, but the Suns lacked depth off the bench to compete with the Nuggets.
Suns Emerged as West Favorite After the Durant Trade
At the start of the regular season, the Sun were +1200 odds to win the championship after they offered Ayton a contract extension.
Their odds narrowed to +900 in early November after a 6-1 start, but bottomed out at +2000 after a 1-9 stretch in January.
Prior to the trade deadline, the Suns hovered around +1800 odds. After the addition of Durant in their blockbuster trade with the Nets, the Suns saw their title odds drastically jump to +450. They emerged as third-highest team on DraftKings futures board, trailing only the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks at the time, and became the top contender from the Western Conference.
The Suns did not see much change in their odds after Durant sprained his ankle in early March shortly after joining his new team.
At the end of the regular season, the Bucks took over as the consensus championship favorite heading into the playoffs at +265 odds. The Celtics were right behind the Bucks at +330 odds. The Suns maintained the third spot on the futures board at +425 odds to win the title.
The Nuggets locked up the #1 seed in the Western Conference, yet they were the not betting favorite to win the conference. The Suns finished the season with a 45-37 record, and secured the #4 seed in the west. They were the consensus favorite to win the conference at +190 odds, and the Nuggets were second overall at +280.
Who Wants to Coach the Suns?
The Suns are expected to interview associate coach Kevin Young for the vacancy, but he lacks head coaching experience.
Three head coaches who previously won an NBA championship are available: Nick Nurse, Mike Budenholzer, and Frank Vogel.
Nurse won a title with the Toronto Raptors in the 2018-19 season, but he was recently let go after they missed the playoffs.
Vogel won a championship with the Los Angeles Lakers during the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season. The Lakers fired him at the end of last season after a disastrous season in which they failed to qualify for the playoffs.
The Milwaukee Bucks fired Budenholzer after the top-seeded Bucks were upset in the first round by the #8 Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Budenholzer won a championship with the Bucks in the 2020-21 season, when he guided them to a victory over the Suns in the 2021 NBA Finals.
If the Suns intended to keep Ayton, then they could hire Budenholzer to help Ayton reach his full potential. Budenholzer teamed up with Giannis Antetokounmpo to win a championship. More importantly, Antetokounmpo won the MVP in back-to-back years playing for Budenholzer. Ayton is not even close to being in the same category as Antetokounmpo, but Budenholzer has a proven track record in coaching talented and young big men.
The Suns join the Detroit Pistons, Bucks, and Raptors as teams that are seeking a new head coach this offseason.
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