On Nov. 4, ESPN published a report detailing the racist and misogynistic culture created by Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver within the organization, which had reached a point where one former executive was quoted as saying “there’s literally nothing you could tell me about him from a misogynistic or race standpoint that would surprise me.” The Suns were on a three-game win streak when the news came out.
They have not lost a game since.
The 18-game win streak, capped off by a victory over the Detroit Pistons on Thursday, broke the franchise record for the most wins in a row. They’ll face the Warriors tonight — one of the tougher opponents of their streak, but also a team that they were able to overcome earlier this week. While management and ownership drama doesn’t necessarily have to affect the on-court performance of a team, the behind-the-scenes bullshit isn’t fully removed from the stage, particularly when it’s a scandal of this scale.
So what is the Suns’ secret behind the 18-game hot streak during such a tumultuous time for their franchise? Well, it doesn’t hurt that their opponents haven’t exactly been the toughest in the league during this stretch of the season, although they were able to handily defeat the Nets and the Warriors in November, which is nothing to scoff at. And after all, this is a team that made it to the NBA Finals last year and returned their major players in Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, and Chris Paul, whose playoff experience is holding over into their shooting accuracy this season.
They’re strong defensively, they’ve been healthy and haven’t seen any major injuries this season (until Booker got injured against the Warriors earlier this week), they have Paul’s seasoned leadership combining flawlessly with Booker and Ayton’s youth and energy, but what may have been the real
difference-maker during the tumultuous time for their organization is head coach Monty Williams.
Now in his third season heading the Suns, Williams has led the team to the NBA Finals once and now sits atop the Western Conference. He just won the Coach of the Month for November. Phoenix went 19-63 the year before Williams signed on as head coach, and his guidance has created a collaborative and calm environment on the court that allowed the Suns to weather the Sarver storm without sustaining damage. His players have raved about him, and when the Sarver news broke, Suns star Devin Booker told the press that Williams was the “perfect person” to have on as their coach, praising his ability to “manage situations” and “keep people focused forward.” Booker’s statement was prophetic — the Suns are on their best run in years and, bar injuries, are looking to continue their streak if they’re able to defeat the Warriors for the second time in a week tonight.
There are, of course, a lot of games left to play, but this team is establishing itself as a Western Conference powerhouse largely immune to the unpredictability of the rest of the basketball world, due in large part to the steady leadership of Williams. His ability to create a positive and trusting culture within the organization has been heralded by veteran and amateur athletes alike, and no matter what happens with the ownership, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team making it a long way in the playoffs again this year.