Earl Watson didn't even have a seat on the front of the bench to begin the season. Now, he's tasked with leading the Phoenix Suns to a second-half push after they reached their midseason nadir.
Watson, who was named Phoenix's interim coach Monday, addressed reporters Tuesday to discuss what he expects for the remainder of the season.
"First order of business is for us to build a culture, a program," Watson said, per the team's official Twitter account. "Bringing passion and connecting to this city is most important."
Watson will be taking over for Jeff Hornacek, who was fired after Sunday night's loss to the Dallas Mavericks. That loss was Phoenix's 19th in its last 21 games and dropped the team to 14-35 overall. Hornacek had hired Watson to be an end-of-bench assistant in July. However, Watson moved to a more prominent role when the team fired lead assistants Mike Longabardi and Jerry Sichting.
"I love him and respect him. It's unfortunate," Watson said of Hornacek.
A point guard for six franchises over 13 NBA seasons, Watson transitioned to coaching with the NBA D-League's Austin Spurs last season. General manager Ryan McDonough said "everyone could tell" Watson has been destined for coaching, and the former Indiana Pacers guard pointed to one particular legend who helped him choose a post-playing path.
"Larry Bird actually told me I should be a coach," Watson said. "When Larry tells you something you roll with it."
Despite their record, the Suns have a promising young core of players. Tyson Chandler and P.J. Tucker are their only starters over the age of 26, and both of their long-term futures with the club should be in question. Chandler has been abysmal in his first season since signing a four-year, $52 million deal in Phoenix this summer. Perhaps Watson's first order of business should be transitioning more minutes to 22-year-old Alex Len, who is yet to receive an extended look with heavy minutes.
Watson also seemed particularly enamored with first-year guard Devin Booker, who is coming on strong after a huge January. Booker averaged 17.3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists for the month and even stepped into more extensive ball-handling work due to injuries.
Paul Coro of AZCentral offered Watson's insight:
Earl Watson: "Devin (Booker) is way more efficient" than Kevin Durant in his rookie year. He said the Suns have a future superstar in him.— Paul Coro (@paulcoro) February 2, 2016
The rookie coach will be facing an uphill battle regardless of talent. Phoenix has alternated between listless and undisciplined for most of the season, with injuries and malcontented stars fracturing what looked like a preseason playoff contender. McDonough is as much, if not more so, to blame than Hornacek for making unnecessary moves; the Suns' deadline deal of Isaiah Thomas to Boston is already among the worst of the last half-decade.
Still, Watson seems undeterred by the task at hand.
"Belief is stronger than reality and we have belief," Watson said. "I learned that from Coach Wooden."
Watson better hope he has a lot of Wooden traits if he hopes to turn things around in Phoenix. Otherwise, this will merely be an audition for his next coaching job elsewhere.
Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter.