How Chris Paul Injury Affects Suns’ Monty Williams Coach of the Year Bid

Phoenix Suns, Monty Williams, Chris Paul. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Phoenix Suns, Monty Williams, Chris Paul. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

NBA awards do not come with a return tag, but New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibbodeau’s Coach of the Year trophy from last season certainly feels like it belongs in someone else’s hands. Of course, I’m referring to Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams.

Although Thibbodeau led the Knicks on a surprise regular season run last year that granted New York the Eastern Conference’s fourth seed come playoff time, Williams did all that and then some, pushing his Suns into the two seed and the NBA Finals soon after.

With Thibbodeau’s Knicks struggling extensively this year and in danger of missing the play-in tournament, while Williams’s Suns continue to roll on, it’s clear who really turned their team around—and who just enjoyed a fluke season.

Having said that, Williams now resembles a clear favorite to take home the hardware this year. The Suns currently sit with the NBA’s best record at 50-12. That mark also has them on pace to finish with their highest win percentage in franchise history.

Not too bad for an exiled New Orleans Pelican.

However, Williams has not been alone in crafting this historic start to the season. Although Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, and Cameron Johnson all played a hand in elevating the Suns so far this year, Chris Paul embodies that central pillar holding the team up, enjoying one of his finer seasons even at 36-years-old.

But as we all know, that pillar now has some cracks in it, with Paul likely out for two months due to a right wrist injury. His absence will apply immense pressure in the Valley, forcing the Suns and Williams’s Coach of the Year candidacy to either become stronger, or crumble into dust.

How Chris Paul’s Injury Could Affect Coach of the Year Candidacy for Suns’ Monty Williams

First looking at the positive side, whenever a coach loses his best player but still manages to keep his team winning, that narrative often puts said coach on a  one-way train to the Coach of the Year award. As a more recent example, think of Nick Nurse, who led the 2019-20 Toronto Raptors to a 46-18 season even after losing NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard in the offseason before.

With the Suns missing their central pillar and Williams now doing some heavy lifting, he should receive additional praise for as long as he keeps the team elevated. Maintaining Phoenix’s first place position in the Western Conference should be enough in that regard. The same will apply to Devin Booker as far as his MVP candidacy goes, with him set to take over Paul’s workload from an on-court perspective once returning from health and safety protocols.

But on the other side of that, simply winning the most games represents the other narrative which leads to the Coach of the Year award. As mentioned earlier, the Suns have that box checked right now, but if they slide, things promise to become more dicey.

Since CP3 went down, the Suns have posted a 2-1 record even while having played two of the league’s worst teams. Phoenix looks all but certain to loosen up their iron fist on the league and at least open the door for another team to come in and seize the throne.

As it stands now, the Golden State Warriors, who hold a tiebreaker over the Suns, sit just seven games back from Phoenix. The Memphis Grizzlies are lurking as well, just seven and a half games behind.

If the Suns go on a losing spell and drop the “best record” entry from their resume, the Coach of the Year award might land into someone else’s lap. Taylor Jenkins represents the biggest threat, being the head coach of a young and overachieving Grizzlies team.

A narrative such as that should sound familiar— it was the exact kind that Thibbodeau’s Knicks built up to swipe the award away from Williams last year. With Jenkins already having that edge, plus if his squad somehow gets the “best record” nod as well, that might be a wrap.

When you really get down to it, Paul’s injury resembles your textbook “double edged sword” for Williams. But as warped and confusing as all these intertwining narratives might sound, one goal alone silences all of them, and it’s the oldest, most pure one in basketball—winning games.

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No matter how, as long as the Suns stay winning, Williams should have no trouble taking home the Coach of the Year award. Doing so would make him the first Phoenix coach to earn the honor since Mike D’Antoni following the 2004-05 season.