Suns’ Monty Williams on Approach to Chris Paul’s Return: ‘I Ain’t Crazy’

Monty Williams (left) and Chris Paul, Suns

Getty Monty Williams (left) and Chris Paul, Suns

Suns coach Monty Williams, coming off his first season with the team, had some confidence about Phoenix’s position heading into this year’s free-agency period—even though the fate of the Western Conference champs hinged on convincing 36-year-old Chris Paul to come back to the desert. There was speculation, too, that Paul had his eye on New York, perhaps looking to close out his career at Madison Square Garden.

Williams knew that was a possibility. Paul did, of course, come back to Phoenix, signing a four-year contract worth $120 million on the first day of free agency, removing any further drama in the process. But it was not simple, and Williams says he did not give Paul a full pitch to come back, instead leaving the decision entirely up to his star player.

“I wouldn’t say I knew he was coming back, but I did feel like there was a level of comfort in our program,” Williams (who previously coached Paul in New Orleans) told The Athletic. “I think he and I have a level of trust that we both know is not always like that in other places. I certainly know it, you know? And I think there’s a level of — I think guys know that our culture and how we do things is a place where they can get better. I think that was helpful. At the same time (laughs), you don’t know, you’re just kind of hoping, like, ‘You’re coming back, right?’”

But there was no free-agent pep talk about returning.

“I’m really close to all of our players, and the last thing I wanted to do was emotionally confuse them, if that makes sense,” Williams said. “I just didn’t want to do that. (But) you know, he knows. I’m not stupid. I’ve been in the league for a long time. I haven’t coached as long as a head coach, but the years I have coached I’ve had the most success with Chris. I ain’t crazy.”

Monty Williams Talks Chris Paul Injury

Williams also addressed the NBA Finals, when it appeared that Paul was not quite himself. Williams actually knew it. As Paul struggled with his ballhandling during Phoenix’s NBA Finals loss to the Bucks, Williams was pained by the fact that he just could not say anything about Paul’s injury.

Paul, remember, did post excellent numbers, averaging 21.8 points and 8.2 assists in the championship series, with 55.0% shooting and 52.2% 3-point shooting. But he averaged 3.5 turnovers against Milwaukee, including 19 turnovers in Games 2-4, and had minor wrist surgery after the season.

Williams said the injury probably went back to Game 5 of the conference finals against the Clippers, when a collision with Patrick Beverley resulted in Paul landing awkwardly on his hand. Of course, Paul had 41 points and eight assists in the following game but, Williams said, he was playing through pain:

“And then it just, as physical as the playoffs are, it was exacerbated by the physicality of the playoffs,” Williams told Sam Amick. “And that was just the deal. I don’t think anybody did it on purpose, but he got to a point where he just couldn’t use it like he normally could. So that part bothered me because he was getting flack and he’s out there battling, playing in that much pain.”

Williams Could Not Explain Paul’s Injury to Media

Part of the problem for Williams, he explained, was that he could not tell the world that Paul was having trouble. Instead, media and fans jumped on Paul for his turnovers, with Williams left unable to defend his star player.

But ultimately, seeing the 36-year-old Paul fight through injuries to lead the team to The Finals and into a Game 6 in that series surely was beneficial to the Suns’ young core. That lesson is sure to stick with them, as Williams explained when it was pointed out that the media did try to get Paul to address the injury:

Yeah, but that’s not who he is. But those are the things that (Suns general manager) James (Jones) and (owner) Robert (Sarver) understood right away, that we knew Chris was going to have an effect on our program that was going to go way past what we knew. And that was another thing, to play with that kind of pain and fight through it, I’m sure, had a huge impact on our young guys. To see a guy who has accomplished everything except, you know, winning a title, is out there fighting his tail off every night and not willing to come out of the game. I’m sure it had a huge impact on all of our young guys.

Surely, it did. And now, Paul will be back to continue to have that impact.


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