The Phoenix Suns fired Monty Williams on Saturday after the 52-year-old spent four seasons at the helm of the franchise.
“Monty has been foundational to our success over the past four seasons,” said James Jones, the Suns’ president of basketball operations and general manager. “We are filled with gratitude for everything Monty has contributed to the Suns and to the Valley community.”
The Suns had a 2-0 lead in the 2021 NBA Finals, only to lose in six games. They lost in the second round in each of the last two seasons, both times in an embarrassing home finale – last year to Dallas, this year to Denver.
“Neither day feels good,” Williams said after the loss earlier this week to Denver, when asked to compare last season’s reverse to this year’s season-ending loss.
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The Suns now become yet another high-profile coaching opening, after Toronto fired Nick Nurse and Milwaukee axed Mike Budenholzer. Nurse won the 2019 NBA title with the Raptors, while Budenholzer was the coach who overcame Phoenix’s 2-0 lead in the 2021 finals.
It is the second major move made by the Suns in the three months or so since new owner Mat Ishbia closed the sale that gave him control of the club. In February, Ishbia green-lighted a blockbuster trade that brought Kevin Durant to Phoenix and gave the Suns a core – him, Devin Booker, former No 1 pick Deandre Ayton and Chris Paul – that the team hoped would be enough to deliver a title.
It just did not work, at least, not this year. Paul got hurt in the playoffs to continue his run of bad luck on the health front in the postseason, Ayton sat out the finale and Booker and Durant simply looked gassed by the time it was over.
Williams, after the season ended, blamed himself.
“I take that personally, not having our team ready to play in the biggest game of the year,” he said. “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.”
Williams had been the coach with the fifth-longest tenure with his current team entering Saturday – just four years. Gregg Popovich has been coach in San Antonio since 1996, Erik Spoelstra in Miami since 2008, Steve Kerr in Golden State since 2014 and Michael Malone in Denver since 2015.
Of the last nine coaches to take a team to the NBA Finals, only Kerr and Spoelstra are still with the franchise they got to the title series.
The others – Boston’s Ime Udoka, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Frank Vogel, Cleveland’s David Blatt and Tyronn Lue, along with Budenholzer, Nurse and now Williams have all been fired by the team they brought to the finals.
“When you look at really good coaches who have lost their jobs shortly after winning a championship, that’s something that is just different about our business,” Williams said on Friday, adding that “it’s just a part of our NBA economy”.
The Suns hoped to avoid that path as they started 16-7 this season, looking every bit like a contender again. But they were only 29-30 the rest of the way.
They used 26 starting line-up combinations, and had Durant for only eight regular-season games after the trade. They had to wait about a month after acquiring him for a January knee injury to heal, and then as he warmed up for what was supposed to be his home opener with the Suns on March 8 he slipped on the court during warm-ups, hurt an ankle and missed three more weeks.
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Williams was second in the official NBA coach of the year balloting in 2021, behind New York’s Tom Thibodeau, and the coach of the year that season as chosen by his peers in the National Basketball Coaches Association.
A year later, Williams was the NBA’s winner – and the NBCA one yet again. Now, he is out, and the Suns will start anew.