The Phoenix Suns have just come off the back of a season to forget which effectively ended months ago. They finished the year with the second-worst record in franchise history and with their offseason underway, they have wasted no time planning for the future.
Following the firing of Jeff Hornacek on February 1st, assistant coach Earl Watson was moved in as the interim head coach and, after taking charge for 33 games, has shown enough to be handed the reigns on a permanent basis.
Per ESPN's Jeff Goodman, Watson has agreed to a three-year deal at the Talking Stick Resort Arena. Under Watson, the team went 9-24 to close out the season but the new coach claimed he was never going to be judged on wins and losses due to the team's injury problems.
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At 36-years-old, Watson will now become the youngest coach in the NBA and take the title from Brad Stevens at the Boston Celtics.
Watson played for 13 seasons in the league before becoming an assistant coach with NBA D-League outfit the Austin Spurs in 2014 and then the Suns in 2015. It represents a rapid rise for the former point guard in coaching terms.
“Earl did a very good job with our team last season after taking over as interim head coach during a challenging time for the organisation,” said Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough.
“Earl’s natural leadership qualities and his ability to connect with and motivate our players have stood out throughout his time here in Phoenix. We are excited to see what he can do with a healthy roster after having a full offseason to prepare.”
Sources told ESPN's Brian Windhorst that several Suns players spoke positively about Watson during their exit meetings with the organisation's top management and it has certainly seemed to have an impact on the hiring process.
Speaking to reporters after the close of the campaign, rookie Devin Booker, who was one of the only bright spots for Phoenix in a largely dismal year, said: "At some point in the season, we had the mindset that we were accepting losing.
"Once Coach Earl stepped in, we didn't accept losing anymore. We were fighting in games, even when we were down 15, 20 late. We fought back to almost win a lot of games."
There is certainly some substance to back up Booker's claims as the team won three of its final four games by averaging 115.0 points over those contests.
They also ranked second in the NBA in rebounds per game after Watson took control and were one of the league’s most improved defensive teams over the final month.
Throughout his playing career, Watson played for and learned under some of the league’s most experienced coaches, including Hubie Brown, George Karl and Jerry Sloan.
The fans in Phoenix, Arizona will certainly be hoping he can compile a competitive team and end their six-year wait for a playoff spot and a place among the league's elite.