The Phoenix Suns fired Monty Williams on Saturday, two years after reaching the NBA Finals and a year after he was the overwhelming choice as the coach of the year, two people with knowledge of the decision said.
The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team had not announced the decision.
Williams had great success in his four regular seasons in Phoenix, winning 63% of his games. But three consecutive years of playoff frustration was likely too much for the Suns to overlook — especially after two straight years of Phoenix trailing by 30 points at halftime of elimination games at home.
ESPN and The Athletic first reported the decision.
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 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 debacle to this year’s season-ending loss.
Saturday likely didn’t feel good either.
The Suns now become yet another high-profile coaching opening, after Toronto fired Nick Nurse and Milwaukee fired 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’s the second major decision made by new Suns owner Mat Ishbia in about three months since the closing of 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 didn’t 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,” Williams 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.”
Ishbia clearly took a deep look as well, and decided to make the change.
It’s anyone’s guess what other changes are coming. The roster surely will change, and so will the system with a new coach in place.
Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press