Four floors separate the respective offices of Ryan McDonough and Earl Watson.
The majority of Watson’s work takes place on level zero of Talking Stick Resort Arena, where the main and practice courts can be found. The Suns Head Coach is here more often than not, holding quality conversations with players regardless of their current status with the team. From current Suns guard Eric Bledsoe to then-draft prospect Tyler Ulis to Phoenix Mercury superstar Diana Taurasi, Watson has time for everyone.
His ability to communicate sincerely did not go unnoticed by the potential draftees or their agents, who called McDonough requesting that their clients be drafted by the Suns if at all possible.
“We had a number of players and their agents calling us, reaching out to us, texting us saying, ‘We want to be in Phoenix. We like what you’re doing,’” McDonough disclosed during the post-draft press conference. “We said, ‘Really? We think your guy will be higher. Wouldn’t it be a sacrifice financially if he got to us?’ They said, ‘We don’t care. We like you. We like your situation. We love your coach. We love the way he connects with young players. He motivates them. He inspires them.’”
Suns Go Big in 2016 NBA Draft
McDonough is more than willing to step onto the court and share a few words as well, but the bulk of his duties takes place on level four of the arena. Thick black doors, each with a sign that reads “Basketball Operations”, guard the entry to the Suns’ front office. Within them, the 37-year-old general manager has struck a deal for Eric Bledsoe, drafted Devin Booker and signed Tyson Chandler.
Watson spent a rare, long day in those offices during last Thursday’s NBA Draft. He watched as McDonough and his staff worked the phones, choosing the clay he would mold for the 2016-17 season. The first-year coach was thrilled when they took Dragan Bender fourth overall.
When the Suns swung a deal to land another top-10 pick and draft Marquese Chriss, he was ecstatic.
McDonough downplayed his role in making the biggest draft-night splash, citing the events as “fortunate.” Watson did not let him get away with it.
“Ryan’s being modest,” Watson said. “He and his staff got it done.
“In this situation, we kind of reverse roles,” he added. “He watched me coach, I watch him do his thing as well, implement things in the draft and make calls under pressure. The minutes are short. They got it done. We’re lucky to have the guys that we have.”
The Suns’ head coach wasn’t the only one impressed by McDonough’s draft-night magic. Several reporters and league observers gave Phoenix high marks for snagging not one, but two of the most talented prospects of the 2016 draft class.
"We had a number of players and their agents calling us, reaching out to us, texting us saying, 'We want to be in Phoenix...We love your coach. We love the way he connects with young players. He motivates them. He inspires them.'"
— Ryan McDonough
The effort and execution to acquire the eighth pick didn’t go unnoticed by the player taken with that selection, either. To Marquese Chriss, it was proof of how much the Suns valued him.
“I really like the organization all around and I respected them for [the trade],” he said. “I’m truly grateful they went to that amount of effort to get me onto the team.”
Chriss was doubly thrilled since Phoenix was where he wanted to be even before draft night. Ditto for Bender and Tyler Ulis, the Suns’ second-round pick.
The common thread tying all three players together: their initial impression of Watson.
“It was just communication,” Chriss said. “We were just talking about different things. We didn’t really talk much about the team. They were trying to get to know me and I just talked to the coaches. Earl Watson, me and [Coach] were really just having a conversation just about each other.”
“How they pay attention to the smaller details,” Bender added. “They’re getting to know each and every player and trying to help the young guys to become NBA players at the highest level.”
McDonough referenced Devin Booker and Alex Len’s respective progress after Watson took over as further proof of his impact on young players. After Watson took on interim head coaching duties on Feb. 1, Booker’s scoring average nearly doubled from 10.0 to 18.8 points per game. Len went from averaging 6.8 points and 6.0 rebounds per contest to nearly averaging a double-double (12.1 ppg, 9.9 rpg) over the final two-and-a-half months of the season.
“That’s powerful,” McDonough said.