Monty Williams to Use Past Experiences to Build Suns Future

by Cody Cunningham

At just 47 years old, Monty Williams has experienced quite the journey on his way to Phoenix, and he is using the knowledge he’s gained from his playing career and past coaching opportunities to help propel the young Suns to the next level.

Williams entered the league in 1994 as the 24th overall pick by the New York Knicks. Not only was Williams immediately surrounded by some of the NBA’s top veterans and a Hall of Fame coach in Pat Riley, but he was able to experience playoffs at a young age during his rookie season.

“When I came into the NBA, to be around Patrick Ewing and Derek Harper and Doc Rivers and Charles Oakley and Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy every day had a huge effect on me,” Williams said. “Herb Williams was a guy that took me in and taught me how to eat, taught me how to take care of my body.” 

Although he was traded during his sophomore season to the San Antonio Spurs, the change of scenery only helped in his development and mindset. Williams found himself learning from new veterans and coaches and quickly added names to the list of the influential people who helped guide him on his journey. 

“Going to San Antonio and being with Avery Johnson, David Robinson, Vinny Del Negro, Chuck Person, Sean Elliot along with [Gregg Popovich] had a huge impact on me,” Williams said.

Williams credits the many Hall of Famers, legends and leaders that he worked with early on in his career to his future successes as he was able to pass along the knowledge gained while displaying similar traits and characteristics of his mentors. 

“After [San Antonio], everywhere I went people thought I was a good pro,” Williams said. “It was easy because I just mimicked what those guys taught me.”

Throughout his nine-year NBA career, Williams played on five different teams and made the playoffs six times as he quickly developed into one of the top veterans in the league. 

Following his retirement in 2003, Williams’ experience and knowledge for the game landed him a job as a coaching staff intern for the San Antonio Spurs under Popovich. Back in San Antonio, Williams was able to see first-hand how much work, dedication and fight it takes to win an NBA Championship.

“When you win a championship, you realize it takes a level of stamina that most people don’t have,” Williams said. “It’s hard to play into June. It’s easy to quit and hard to do. To be able to win on a Game 7 in The Finals, was a huge experience for me.

Williams had experienced the playoffs many times, but witnessing the grind of battling out an extra two months after the regular season on the way to hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy was eye-opening for the young aspiring coach.

“Those things resonated with me because I realized how hard it was, but also realized there’s a lot of fruit there if you can have the stamina to do it all,” Williams said. 

Williams continued his journey to the Portland Trail Blazers in 2005 as an assistant under Nate McMillan for the following five seasons. In 2010 at age 38, Williams became the youngest Head Coach in the NBA moving to New Orleans to coach the Hornets. 

The Hornets landed a spot in the playoffs under their new coach as Williams finished with a 46-36 record in his first season with the team. However, after the departure of All-Star point guard Chris Paul, Williams found himself rebuilding a team from the bottom up.

The following season, the Hornets landed the first overall pick in Anthony Davis and, similar to the Suns, Williams had himself a number one draft choice in Davis, a top scoring option in Eric Gordon and an uphill battle to return to playoff form. 

“The amount of work that has to go into it, still resonates on both teams,” Williams said. “Even though the variables are different, the work doesn’t change. That’s what excited me. To be able to do that with that group. Through all the injuries that we had, we were still able to get better every year and we built a pretty good culture.”

While the challenge seemed daunting, Williams rose to the occasion and led the Hornets back into the playoffs within a few seasons. Now with the Suns, Williams will have a chance to prove himself yet again and use the knowledge he gained from New Orleans and apply it to the young roster in Phoenix.

“The similarities are the talent base,” Williams said. “At that time, we didn’t have a Devin though. We didn’t have the combination of Devin and Deandre. It was a bit different.” 

Williams is taking that culture that he built in New Orleans and looking to create something similar here in Phoenix. The key for everything to fall into play is an absolute commitment throughout the organization. 

"Ultimately it will come down to James [Jones], myself and the players pushing this thing forward,” Williams said. “The players are going to have to embrace a level of work and commitment that it takes to be a champion."

Following his time in New Orleans, Williams took a front office role with the Spurs as Vice President of Basketball Operations in 2016. Williams assisted in the construction of the number two team in the NBA that season, finishing with a 61-21 record.

Now partnered with newly appointed General Manager James Jones in Phoenix, the two will work together to help design the ideal roster in The Valley.

Entering just his second season in the league, Mikal Bridges recognizes what his new coach is looking for and believes this organization is ready to make the next step in becoming a winning franchise. 

"Everybody here wants to win and that's the main goal and I think he's going to lead us to that," Bridges said. "I know what he's going to want out of all of us and that he's going to push us and I think that's what we need. People to push us to be really good, be great. I think he's that right person." 

Using the experience and knowledge he has gained every step of the way, Williams is focused on taking from his past to build the Suns future. With the NBA Draft and free agency approaching, Williams is set to have a crucial first summer as Head Coach of the Phoenix Suns.

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