The Phoenix Suns appointed Earl Watson as the team's permanent head coach on Tuesday, per a team release.
Suns general manager Ryan McDonough commented on why he believes Watson is the right man for the Suns moving forward:
Earl did a very good job with our team last season after taking over as interim head coach during a challenging time for the organization. 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.
Watson took over for Jeff Hornacek on an interim basis after Hornacek's firing in February. The team won nine of its 33 games during which Watson was in charge.
Despite that lackluster record, it isn't a major surprise to see Phoenix retain the 36-year-old. The Arizona Republic's Paul Coro reported last Wednesday that Watson looked to be in pole position for the coaching job. Center Tyson Chandler praised the work he had done in the second half of the year, per Coro:
I think he's done an incredible job. I try to stay out of the way of management decisions, but he's done an incredible job with the team he inherited with all the injuries and everything else like that. He's done an excellent job coming in and helping the young players, as well as helping guys like myself get adapted here. He's added structure. Everything he has done has been positive. He came in and took over this team in a tough position. I thought he has done an excellent job. Nobody could've asked for anything better.
In an interview on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM's Burns & Gambo (via ArizonaSports.com's Adam Green), McDonough also spoke highly of Watson.
"Obviously our record’s not great, but he's been dealt a very difficult hand," McDonough said. "I think his first major challenge was the Markieff Morris situation and I thought he handled that tremendously well and helped us get a pick that as of today, I think, will be about 12th or 13th in the lottery. That's huge for us, huge for the organization."
The difficult position Watson inherited included a number of factors outside his control. Leading scorer Eric Bledsoe had already been ruled out for the season, while Morris' presence was creating a toxic situation for the squad.
The team has since traded Morris, while Bledsoe should be healthy for the start of the 2016-17 season. In addition, Phoenix will have much more realistic expectations for next year, thus putting Watson in a more favorable position.
This time last summer, the Suns were preparing to make a push for LaMarcus Aldridge. They traded Marcus Morris, Danny Granger and Reggie Bullock to clear up some cap space. Not only did Phoenix fail to sign Aldridge, the trade alienated Markieff Morris, who demanded a move away from the team.
The Suns still have Chandler, Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and P.J. Tucker, so it's not as if the team needs a complete rebuild in response to this year's 23-59 finish.
With that said, Phoenix should focus heavily on the development of young players such as Alex Len, Devin Booker, Archie Goodwin and T.J. Warren to ensure long-term success. The fact the Suns also have two lottery picks in the upcoming draft should encourage the front office to emphasize the future ahead of winning in the present.
The hiring of Watson on a full-time basis appears to indicate ownership is willing to be patient on the road to contention.