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The Suns eliminated the interim tag on Watson, clearing the way for him to take over the team for the long term.
Watson sold Suns management, including owner Robert Sarver and general manager Ryan McDonough, with his ability to command respect in the locker room, develop talent and get the injury-depleted Suns to play competitive basketball in the final weeks of the season.
“One of the things that stood out was this: Every single player on the roster came to us at the end of the season and said that this is the guy we want as head coach,” McDonough told The Vertical in a telephone interview on Tuesday afternoon. “They said that you’d be making a mistake if you hire a different head coach. That’s not something we expected to hear from [our players] back when we promoted him to interim coach in February, but Earl has shown an ability to connect and motivate our players as well as discipline and hold them accountable.”
The Suns are counting on a young core – including 19-year-old rookie Devin Booker and 22-year-old center Alex Len – to become the cornerstone of the franchise’s future.
“It’s certainly important that he connect with all of our players, but we’re trying to build with our young core and we feel like he’s someone who can develop those guys and grow with the team – being able to push them and hold them accountable,” McDonough told The Vertical. “The more we saw of him in the 2½-month evaluation period we had, the more we thought he was the perfect guy for the job.”
Watson, 36, replaced Jeff Hornacek for the final 33 games of the Suns' regular season, finishing 9-24.
Watson's ascension in coaching has been swift. After retiring in 2014 following a 13-year NBA career, Watson spent one year with the Spurs’ NBA Development League affiliate and joined Hornacek's staff as a behind-the-bench assistant in 2015. After the firing of two top assistant coaches in December, Watson moved to the front of the bench and eventually replaced Hornacek as interim coach in February.
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