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“The life of a coach is the life of a nomad, man.”
Patrick Mutombo, the newest addition to the Phoenix Suns’ coaching staff, describes his reality in unflattering terms, but says it with the type of grin that even a choppy FaceTime connection can’t misplace.
“Listen, you never really undo your bags,” he says. “You always have a couple duffel bags ready by the front door, and you have a couple of boxes that you haven’t touched in five years because you never know, something may go down. You never know.”
For a man who was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, moved to Belgium when he was 13 years old, went to college in Denver, played overseas professionally in Italy, Brazil and Greece, and then coached in Denver, Austin and Toronto, the “nomad” philosophy makes sense. Mutombo joked that he and his family were “spoiled” to stay rooted in the same spot in Toronto for the last six years.
Now, he’s spent the summer scoping out places to live in Phoenix, researching local schools for his four sons, and working out the logistics with his wife, Magali, so she can continue her cooking show, The Blue Fufu, from their new home base.
Even so, the new Suns assistant feels blessed by the opportunity and fortunate to have someone who’s flexible enough to understand the life of an NBA coach.
“She’s from Africa like me, so we understand, man,” he explained. “Our parents had to move to go try to find a better life for us. We had to move and try to find opportunities. It kind of just comes with the territory, and wherever we go, we kind of just adjust and adapt to whatever is there. And we trust that if God moves us there, there’s a purpose, there’s a mission there, but there’s also provision there for us.”
Mutombo — who bears no relation to former Congolese NBA star Dikembe Mutombo — has his purpose. The Suns are on a mission, and head coach Monty Williams has offered the provision. But what can Phoenix expect from their new assistant coach?
Mutombo’s recent past
Mutombo spent the last six years with the Toronto Raptors in some capacity, serving as an assistant from 2016-20 and winning a ring with the team in 2019. In December 2020, he became the head coach of their G League affiliate, the Raptors 905, who went 36-11 over the last two years with him at the helm.
Eric Khoury, who joined the Raptors 905 bench as lead assistant in 2019 and will now take over as head coach, had nothing but praise for Mutombo. After working with him in the pros and the G League, Khoury hailed the way Mutombo sees the game’s bigger picture and how he fostered relationships with players and coaches.
“He’s got a really good sense for the game, like, a really creative offensive mind and a really disciplined defensive mind, and he uses all that together,” Khoury said. “He’s really great at player development. That probably is his biggest strength, is his ability to build relationships with the rest of the staff and the players. He does it in such an honest way and such a true way. He builds those strong relationships so that way, it lets him have some of these tough conversations that come up throughout the year.”
If that description reminds anyone of a certain Suns head coach, they’re not alone in making that connection.
“I think it’s gonna be an awesome fit,” Khoury said of Mutombo joining Phoenix. “I think they have a bit of a previous relationship before, and I know just speaking with him how excited he is to be working with coach Monty Williams and the rest of the staff.”
Multiple teams were reportedly interested in bringing Patrick Mutombo on board, but after talking with Williams and then general manager James Jones, Mutombo said he’d made his decision.
Monty & Mutombo
Mutombo’s prior relationship with Monty certainly didn’t hurt. Although neither recalled the specific year, they both cited Basketball Without Borders years ago in Africa as the first time they met. Their initial impressions of each other were strong enough to keep in touch ever since.
“Obviously he’s a brilliant man, high character and somebody I really look up to,” Mutombo said. “And then from there, we kind of just stayed in contact and our relationship developed throughout the years.”
That feeling of admiration was mutual.
“I felt an unreal spirit and energy and focus and determination to serve,” Williams said via email of Mutombo. “Because that’s what he was doing in Africa with the kids on that continent, and in that case, the country of South Africa.”
Although there are challenges that come with moving to a different city (and country), Mutombo is excited to be a part of what Williams and his group have built in the desert.
“I think Mont and James have done a terrific job there with the people they bring in, the players there,” Mutombo said. “And then there’s a buzz about the organization, right? My family and I are very, very excited. Monty’s somebody that I’ve always held in high regard. We’ve had a relationship for many years, he’s always been a very good person for me to run some things by, and I’m very excited and humbled to have this opportunity.”
Painting a picture of coach Mutombo
Joining a 64-win team that reached the NBA Finals the season prior, Mutombo is aware of the type of environment he’s stepping into. He’s coached Cam Payne and Ish Wainright before, he’s already got a relationship with Bismack Biyombo, a fellow Congolese native, and he’s coached against most of the rest of the Suns.
“A hard-playing team, highly competitive, very structured,” Mutombo said of Phoenix. “There’s a pattern in the way they do things. There’s an identity. You could tell guys have bought in into a system they believe in, and that system has proven itself to be successful.”
Like Williams, Mutombo acknowledges that winning in this league is difficult. His goal is simply assimilate, identify where he can help, and contribute enough to help Phoenix be the last team standing at the end of the year.
“When I step into a new situation, my philosophy remains the same: I’m here to serve, and then whatever is needed,” Mutombo said. “Obviously, I have strong points and areas that I really enjoy and that probably maybe come easier to me, but my main thing is just come in there and then talk with coach and then also seeing what are the areas where I can best serve and where can I help the most?”
Devin Booker is a superstar, and younger cornerstones Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson have already begun to establish themselves. But Mutombo’s knack for player development — one of the Raptors 905’s strongest suits in recent years, touting the growth of guys like Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell, Chris Boucher and Gary Payton II — figures to help Phoenix in an area that’s been hit-or-miss further down the depth chart.
Khoury cited Mutombo’s ever-expanding leadership style and how he uses it to build relationships off the court as well. That approach will be right at home under Williams, with a firm but caring hand that repeatedly shows up in Mutombo’s Basketball Without Borders clinics:
“When we had a chance to bring him on board, I knew we were bringing in an unreal person, but we also looked at some of the tactical things that he had been around in Toronto and we thought he could help our program,” Monty Williams said. “It was manyfold for me to have Patrick the man, his family, but also the basketball mind. I have a great deal of respect for what they do in Toronto; to be able to take one of their former staff, I think it’s going to be a treat for our players and a treat for the organization.”
Even one of Mutombo’s hobbies hints at the unique perspective he brings to the table. Painting isn’t a very common pastime in the NBA, but it’s splashed across his Instagram page. Khoury believes that particular passion speaks to the artistic mind Phoenix will enjoy.
“I’m sure it’s come up before, but he’s an unbelievable artist, and I think he uses some of that — his painting and his creativity there — to tie it into his basketball coaching as well,” Khoury said. “And you see his creativity come out there in the middle of timeouts and just different situations.”
Mutombo first got into art while playing professionally in Greece back in 2009. His interest in learning how to paint became so intense that he eventually found a mentor who would review his work and give him pointers whenever he wasn’t practicing or late at night. From then on, it became a pattern in order to hone his craft.
“Almost everywhere I went, I’d always find a mentor, somebody who’s willing to help me, talk me through something,” Mutombo said. “There’s just so much I don’t know about art, but I’ve always been artistic my whole life.”
That thirst for knowledge and learning is vital for a coach in any sport. It’s not only apparent in his art, but even in the way he coaches. Khoury noted his relationship with “big business types” all over the world who have helped refine his leadership style, and Mutombo is not shy about sharing the message about seeking wisdom from others:
On this latest step in his life as a nomad, Patrick Mutombo’s goal is to contribute to a team with title aspirations. But the way he wants to be remembered as a coach is what makes him such an ideal fit in Phoenix — for now and the foreseeable future.
“For me, when it’s all said and done, I got into this business because I wanted to help people,” he said. “I really had a heavy burden: My burden was for young men that really needed direction, both on the court but off the court also. So that’s how I got into coaching. When it’s all said and done, the legacy I would like to leave is somebody who loved players, who loved people and who helped people get to a place they couldn’t get on their own.”