The Phoenix Suns and the Utah Jazz share more than just a time zone and a hatred for the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls. They in fact have very related bloodlines with many players playing or coaching either franchise, or doing both. There's forward , who used to start for both teams as a player, and was an assistant and head coach for Utah. Not to be outdone, there is guard , who also used to start for both teams as a player, was an assistant with the Jazz, and became the head coach of the Suns. Today the Utah Jazz will play a Phoenix Suns team that is coached by . Watson didn't play for Phoenix as a player, and he wasn't a starter. And sadly, he wasn't parts of any John Stockton / Karl Malone teams that made noise in the NBA Playoffs. But Watson did play in 178 regular season games for the Jazz, and logged almost 3,500 total minutes over three seasons with the team.
In his tenure with the Jazz, Watson brought stability to the bench. He was already 30 and a veteran of many NBA wars over the nine previous years of his career.
He also brought a defensive intensity and while he did not get to back him up for very long, he was probably the best back-up a youngever had. But more than those two things, he brought in a sense of toughness that the team needed during a difficult transition phase. His first year with the Jazz was the same year that:
- a) Phil Johnson, giving the reigns over to Tyrone Corbin; resigned and retired along with
- b) that the team traded All-NBA and Olympian Williams for , a rookie , and two future picks ( and );
- and c) the team went from being a fixture in the NBA Playoffs to being a lottery team -- all in the span of a few weeks.
Earl Watson effectively became the 'den mother' to this young group that included not just rookies like, Favors, and the next season Enes Kanter and -- but also a rookie head coach in Corbin. He knew that this team needed one thing the most, leadership. And he oozed it when he was on the floor.
He taught his pups early and often not to be intimidated in games, even against MVP players like, and helped instill in them a killer instinct. (Some players learned better than others.)
Watson is a seasoned mentor. He did it over his last few seasons in the NBA, but after the NBA he put in a lot of time, effort (and money) into his school and his teams back in Missouri. (Part of his Watson / Burks connection.) Jeff Hornacek was well aware of that, which is why he added Earl to his coaching staff as soon as he could. Watson remains one of the only coaches NOT to get fired in Phoenix this year. That is telling.
As a coach in Phoenix he is thrown directly into the fire in another transition period: another coaching change, another big player mid-season trade, and another shift in franchise direction. He's been here before, even if here is now a few hours south on the US-89. I wish him all the best, he's one of the actually legit human beings in the NBA. He was one of the reasons to cheer during the bad days. And he will give Suns fans a reason to cheer if he's allowed to build something in that desert.