Earl Watson wants enforcer to protect Suns offensive players

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Phoenix may be in last place in the Western Conference, but Suns head coach Earl Watson is not happy taking all the losses on the chin.


Following the Suns' 130-112 loss to the Grizzlies in Memphis on Tuesday night, Watson was more concerned with the physical play and altercations which erupted than the final outcome of the game.

"We have to find someone in free agency or the first chance we get who can protect our top offensive players," Watson said.

Watson was referring to a first quarter elbow thrown by the Grizzlies' Vince Carter that knocked Suns guard Devin Booker to the floor and incited a shoving match between the two teams.

"This has to happen. If not, Book is going to see a lot of elbows," Watson said. "It's the reason Kobe went out and got Ron Artest and Matt Barnes. It's the reason why Jordan went out and got guys who could protect him."

Carter, a 19-year-veteran and eight-time All-Star, drove toward the lane late in the first quarter. Booker appeared to strike Carter in the face, resulting in a foul call. As the play concluded, Carter elbowed Booker in the face, knocking the second-year guard to the floor.

Carter was ejected, which did little to appease Watson.

"Carter's elbow changed the momentum of the game and sent a message," Watson added. "Who's going to protect our young guys? It's the situation we're in. We have to find a guy who can come in and make another team think twice about doing that. That should be a top priority for us moving forward."

Recent history suggests teams are taking a more physical approach with the Suns and it's taking its toll on the players and their coach.

On Feb. 8, Memphis guard Troy Danielsverbally mixed it up with several Suns players, which led to pushing, three players being assessed technical fouls and three players being ejected. After that game, Booker criticized Daniels for talking trash.

The Suns have also had minor skirmishes with the Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks, with both games resulting in losses.

For Watson, there is a definitive need to match fire with fire.

"Every playoff team we face, they find a way to create a physical play with technical fouls and get tangled up,'' Watson said.

"We knew coming in this game was going to be chippy," said Booker, who had nine points on 3-of-11 shooting. "It's not surprising. I like games like that. It's kind of like the old NBA, more physical. I personally didn't like him getting ejected. ... I knew I was going to get a hard foul, I just wanted a chance to get somebody back. That's just how it goes."

Carter wasn't available to media. Memphis coach David Fizdale said the Grizzlies understand what the Suns are: a young team fighting for respect. In two previous matchups this season, the Grizzlies had defeated Phoenix by 19 points each time. And given the way the second contest ended, Fizdale figured the Suns would come out with something to prove.

"I know Earl Watson; he's a tough cookie and he's coaching those guys to be tough,'' Fizdale said. "They might be in a tough situation record-wise, but Earl is going to develop those young guys and make sure they play hard, play the right way and also earn the respect."