Suns coach Monty Williams says Rockets are ‘hungry just like us’

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In 2019, the Phoenix Suns wrapped up a season with the worst record (19-63) in the Western Conference. In 2021, just two years later, they won the West and were the conference representative in the NBA Finals.

Part of their rapid rise was the internal development of highly touted young players such as Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton, while another aspect involved astute roster additions — like the trade for Chris Paul.

In either case, the Suns are a reminder of how quickly a bad situation can turn. To that point, in a new interview with Sam Amick of The Athletic, Phoenix head coach Monty Williams pointed to the Sacramento Kings and Houston Rockets as examples of teams in the West who — like the Suns — could soon become much more dangerous than expected.

Every year the West is tough. And you know, nobody picked us to be (in the Finals). Look where we were picked last year. Some people didn’t even have us making the playoffs, even with Chris. So that part doesn’t bother me at all, because you have to play the games and you have to go through the grind and you ain’t gonna win because somebody said you’re going to win. You’re going to win because you go out and win the game. That’s what we’ve been about proving.

That doesn’t diminish teams in the West. I’m looking at teams that are hungry just like us who were on the outside, teams like Sac [Sacramento], you know. That’s a team that’s going to come after your head next year. Houston. I’m watching all the additions that they’ve made.

The analogy may sound too good to be true, since Houston finished this past season with the NBA’s worst record. But there were some clear extenuating circumstances, such as major injuries to veterans like John Wall, Eric Gordon, and Christian Wood. While that trio should be healthy for 2021-22, they each missed more than 30 games of the 72 in Houston’s 2020-21 regular season. Many of their injuries overlapped, as well, which often left head coach Stephen Silas extremely short-handed.

There’s also the offseason additions, as Williams referred to. The Rockets brought in veteran center Daniel Theis in free agency, which should provide more of a defensive presence in the frontcourt. But most notably, of course, they drafted four first-round rookies, headlined by No. 2 overall selection Jalen Green. Many league observers see Green as a potential superstar, and his strong play at the NBA’s 2021 summer league did little to diminish that enthusiasm. The Rockets also have a potential rising star in third-year guard Kevin Porter Jr., who was taken in the 2019 first round but only played 26 games with Houston in 2020-21.

Considering that Green and Houston’s other 2021 draft picks (Alperen Sengun, Usman Garuba, and Josh Christopher) are all just 19 years old, it would be a stretch to expect major impacts immediately. But between solid veterans, a pipeline of young talent, and future salary cap flexibility (between Wall and Gordon, the Rockets will have nearly $70 million roll off their books by 2023), Houston is worth keeping an eye on.

A quick resurgence by the Rockets might sound like a stretch in August 2021, given their recent results. Then again, the same could have been said about the Suns in August 2019 and even August 2020. As a result, the perspective of Monty Williams shouldn’t be discounted.

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