It’s good to be an unemployed NBA coach in 2016. Put the realtors in Minnesota and New York and Washington and Sacramento and Houston on speed dial because coaches are going to get overpaid big time as there are a lot of openings and only a handful of veteran coaches whose name recognition trick fans into thinking we’re back. Tom Thibodeau is the glamour pick that everyone is gravitating towards and he has already interviewed with Minnesota. Same with Jeff Van Gundy. Add Scott Brooks name to the list because Brooks, perhaps, may bring Kevin Durant with him. But nowhere on the list was Earl Watson’s name.
The former UCLA guard and veteran of 13 hard NBA years had the interim label removed from his job description. The Suns named him to succeed Jeff Hornacek as head coach. Hornacek, like Watson, had no NBA head coaching experience. Watson, as interim, won 9 games. The reciprocity at the end of that dismal rainbow means the Suns have a shot at the #1 pick in the draft, albeit only an 11.9% shot. They do have a 37.8% chance of a top-three pick.
The Suns obviously went the less expensive not a household name route. For his part in all of this, Watson was able to develop rapport with his young core. Eric Bledsoe’s season ending injury deprived Watson of figuring out how to use Bledsoe with rookie guard Devin Booker who took off once he was inserted in the starting lineup. Booker ended the season with an impressive stat line of 13.8 points which is more points per game than fellow guards D’Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay, whose rookie campaigns netted them 13.2 points and 12.8 points, respectively. Booker also made 42% of his field goal attempts.
More talent is coming via the draft and no one expects the Suns to suddenly leap frog into the playoffs after a 23 win season but they are embracing the reality that they are rebuilding and, at the same time, they are incentivizing a coach who is a relationship builder.
Watson was a second round pick, drafted by the now defunct Seattle Supersonics in 2001. He played for 7 NBA teams and was an assistant coach in the D-League (Austin Spurs) before he was an assistant coach with the Suns and now the head coach, accepting a three year contract.
A multi-racial background just like star rookie Devin Booker, who was born to a Puerto Rican mother and an African American father, Watson’s mother is Mexican American and his father is African American. His mother’s heritage allowed him to play on the Mexican National Team.
The Kansas City native was both devastated and inspired when his brother Dwayne, a police officer, died because of dislodged blood clots due to an altercation. It gave Watson the driving force to want to impact the lives of kids in his hometown, which spiraled into a coaching career.
Watson, on every level of basketball, was considered a player with leadership intangibles. But it doesn’t matter what kind of leader you are, you need talent, which is what the Suns didn’t have this year. Credit the front office for not judging Watson on their thin lineup but how the players responded. The Suns players wanted Watson to return; they demanded it.
“Every single player on the roster came to us at the end of the season and said this is the guy we want as a head coach. They said that you’d be making a mistake if you hire a different coach. That’s not something we expected to hear from our players back when we promoted him to interim coach in February but Earl has shown an ability to connect and motivate our players as well as discipline and hold them accountable.” (Ryan McDonough, Suns GM)
At 36, Waston will be the youngest NBA head coach, tasked with the tough assignment of developing players, creating a culture, and elevating a competitive mentality in a cutthroat league. The Suns players believe he is their guy and, frankly, they are the ones that matter.
Tom Thibodeau no need to apply. You are not wanted.
photo via llananba