Two NBA head coaching vacancies have now been filled.
The Brooklyn Nets already hired Atlanta Hawks assistant Kenny Atkinson, a sneaky-great choice, and the Phoenix Suns have now named interim head coach Earl Watson their indefinite head honcho, per a team release that, by normal standards, went nearly unnoticed:
The Phoenix Suns have reached an agreement with interim head coach Earl Watson to retain him as the 17th head coach in franchise history.
“Earl did a very good job with our team last season after taking over as interim head coach during a challenging time for the organization,” said Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough. “Earl’s natural leadership qualities and his ability to connect with and motivate our players have stood out throughout his time here in Phoenix. We are excited to see what he can do with a healthy roster after having a full offseason to prepare.”
First named interim head coach on Feb. 1, Watson compiled a 9-24 in 33 games after taking the reins, including wins in three of the team’s final four games by averaging 115.0 points over those final four contests. The Suns ranked second in the NBA in rebounds per game after Watson took control and were one of the league’s most improved defensive teams over the season’s final month, allowing 5.1 fewer points per 100 possessions in the team’s final 16 games than in their first 66.
Watson isn’t name that will set the coaching world on fire. But judging from NBA Twitter’s reactions, as someone who must confess to not watching nearly enough of the Suns this year, Phoenix’s players did start to try harder once he replaced Jeff Hornacek. So there’s that.
If there’s one potential complaint, it’s that Watson might not be the coach a conventional rebuilding team would hire. Consider this from The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears:
Don't be surprised if Earl Watson eventually aids Suns' free agency signings.Respected Ex-NBA player had LaMarcus Aldridge's ear last summer
— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpearsESPN) April 19, 2016
Sorry, but the Suns should ditch the free-agent pipe dreams. They need to build around Devin Booker, Alex Len (maybe) and T.J. Warren, try to trade one or both of Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight for exceptional picks and find a team willing to absorb what’s left on Tyson Chandler’s deal.
Easier said than done? Sure. But the days of Phoenix chasing low-end playoff berths, only to fail fantastically, must cease to exist. And with Watson at the helm indefinitely, it’s not quite clear if that’s the plan.