Raptors Eying Monty Williams After Phoenix Suns Fire Head Coach
May 9, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams looks on in the fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets during game five of the 2023 NBA playoffs at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns announced on Saturday the dismissal of Monty Williams, two years after reaching the NBA Finals and a year after he was overwhelmingly chosen as the coach of the year.

Williams succeeded during his four regular seasons in Phoenix, securing victories in 63% of his games. However, three consecutive years of playoff disappointment was seemingly too much for the Suns to overlook — particularly following two straight years of Phoenix trailing by 30 points at halftime of home elimination games.

The Athletic initially reported the decision.

“Monty has been the cornerstone of our success over the past four seasons,” commented James Jones, the Suns’ president of basketball operations and general manager. “We are filled with appreciation for everything Monty has contributed to the Suns and to the Valley community.”

Jones also confirmed that he was the one who decided to let Williams go.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, “he’s expected to become a prominent candidate in coaching searches elsewhere in the league, especially the Toronto Raptors, sources said,” in his report on the firing. The Raptors fired head coach Nick Nurse back in April.

The Suns led 2-0 in the 2021 NBA Finals, only to lose in six games. They fell in the second round in the last two seasons, both in a disheartening home finale — last year to Dallas, this year to Denver.

“Neither day feels good,” Williams said earlier this week after the loss 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 join the ranks of high-profile coaching vacancies following the dismissals of Nick Nurse from Toronto and Mike Budenholzer from Milwaukee. Nurse won the 2019 NBA title with the Raptors, while Budenholzer was the coach who overturned Phoenix’s 2-0 lead in the 2021 finals.

This is the second significant move made by the Suns in the three months or so since new owner Mat Ishbia took control of the club. In February, Ishbia approved a blockbuster trade that brought Kevin Durant to Phoenix, forming a core team with Durant, Devin Booker, former No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton, and Chris Paul the Suns hoped would deliver a title.

However, it didn’t pan out, at least not this year. Paul sustained an injury in the playoffs, continuing his streak of postseason health misfortunes, Ayton missed the finale, and both Booker and Durant appeared exhausted by the end.

After the season ended, Williams took the blame.

“I take that personally, not having our team ready to play in the biggest game of the year,” Williams admitted. “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.”

As of Saturday, Williams had the fifth-longest tenure with his current team — just four years. Only Gregg Popovich in San Antonio since 1996, Erik Spoelstra in Miami since 2008, Steve Kerr in Golden State since 2014, and Michael Malone in Denver since 2015 have served longer.

Phoenix now joins the Raptors, Bucks, and Detroit Pistons as teams currently needing a head coach.

Of the last nine coaches to lead a team to the NBA Finals, only Kerr and Spoelstra remain with the franchise they brought to the championship series.

The rest — Boston’s Ime Udoka, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Frank Vogel, Cleveland’s David Blatt, Tyronn Lue, Budenholzer, Nurse, and now Williams — have all been dismissed by the team they led to the finals.

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