Suns and Coyotes showed grit, culture in comeback from NBA, NHL layoffs

Sacramento Kings v Phoenix Suns

There's a little magic in the Valley. I don't care that it probably won't lead to a Stanley Cup or Larry O'Brien Trophy, I'm just glad Phoenix sports is making me feel something.

Plus, the way the Suns and Coyotes started their quasi-playoff bids is a sign of things to come.

I've always felt it telling what a person, or team, chooses to do in the rare free time our career-obsessed culture allows. Weekends, vacations, or layoffs provide unique opportunities to turn on Netflix, or start that project you've been meaning to get to. The way the Suns and Coyotes returned - with their hair on fire - tells me they chose the project. That says a lot about each team's culture, and coaching.

I learned the importance of culture and coaching, especially as it relates to free time, when I worked as a residential tech (glorified life coach) at a drug and alcohol rehab in Flagstaff. My job was to gently guide a culture, while providing personal coaching to 18-35-year-old men during their six-month stay. Culture was the most important factor in resident success rates. If new residents walked into a culture of war stories or men treating their stays like vacations, they were likely to spend their time similarly. If there was a culture of self-reflection and gratitude, new residents would eventually fit that mold, or be castoff as bad apples. Culture worked wonders, but it was only set in motion with the right coaching. Residents only became model citizens if they respected staff enough to take our advice in the first place. That often required us sharing our own stories of recovery, and "walking the walk" - with integrity and gratitude. Once a great culture was established, residents didn't need to be told what to do with their six month break from life, the just knew. That became especially clear when residents from good cultures got out in the real world. Many thrived, and eventually became employees at the rehab, coaching the cultures they once formed.

The Suns are clearly building a good culture. How many times was Monty Williams' "other side of hard" quote repeated by Devin Booker this season? It wasn't all talk. Booker has every reason to mail the bubble in, hoping to get back to his new American royalty girlfriend, Kendall Jenner. He doesn't owe anything to the Suns after they filled his first four seasons with dysfunction, and Kendall's got plenty of options. Kelly Oubre surely has a vibrant social life, and a clothing line to manage. Hell, Oubre isn't even playing! Ricky Rubio - who became a father in January - could've bailed without blame after testing positive for coronavirus before being admitted to the Orlando bubble. Collectively, the team was told by stat nerds it had a near 0% chance of making the playoffs at all. Still, here they sit, 2-0, after a miraculous comeback against the more-talented Mavericks on Sunday. They clearly spent their lockdown wisely. That's what Monty Williams' culture dictated.

The Coyotes had reason to revolt. John Chayka broke up with the team just before their play-in series with Nashville, and he claims it was the team's fault. Clayton Keller and Jakob Chychrun were both drafted by Chayka, but didn't skip a beat in Edmonton. Oliver Ekman-Larsson maintained his usual professionalism, while answering critics who said he wasn't fully back from injury with a goal and a few hits. At the forefront of the Coyotes? Rick Tocchet, known for his workman-like attitude, and toughness.

The spark may be short lived. The Suns, in their next four games, play four teams that are objectively more talented than them, and the Predators roared back closer than they probably should have in Sundays win for the Coyotes. So be it. I can deal with talent disparities, for now. In the long run, it's the culture that counts.

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