The transaction flurry that has defined the Suns this month has not included a contract extension for head coach Alvin Gentry.
And that’s not a surprise. We were escorted to the acceptance porch of this reality during Lon Babby’s preamble-to-summer press conference back in June.
“My view is if a person has a three-year contract, you assess it at the end of three years,” the Suns’ president of basketball operations said when asked about Gentry’s status with the final year of his deal approaching.
“That’s how I’m going to be judged. I’ve talked to Alvin, and he’s perfectly fine with that, and you know, there are a lot of very successful coaches in the league right now coaching in the final year of their contract.
“This notion that you always have to be one year ahead, I don’t think it’s in his best interest, I don’t think it’s in our best interest … but it has absolutely nothing to do with an assessment of his coaching ability or his performance. He understands that. He’s our coach.”
Gentry is the coach of a roster that has become younger and has been upgraded with more players capable of creating their own scoring opportunities.
But it also is a roster that — including point-guard returnee Goran Dragic — will reflect a more than 50 percent turnover since the end of last season. Although Gentry should benefit from actually having training camp, the task of familiarizing new personnel with what is considered a player-friendly system must be accomplished without the on-court direction of Steve Nash and the all-around leadership of Grant Hill.
“We’re building a new family,” Babby said last week when a teleconference discussion inspired by a three-team trade shifted its focus to the revamped roster. “That’s going to be a tremendous challenge for us and a tremendous challenge for Alvin and his coaching staff.”
Since rescuing his players after the Terry Porter Experiment, Gentry has received consistent and vigorous backing from team leaders. That vocal support included tributes last season from the since-departed Nash and Hill.
It will be interesting to see how quickly Gentry can transform a roster that seems more versatile — and just how good the franchise hierarchy expects the Suns to be. Failing in their aggressive effort to land restricted free agent Eric Gordon left the team with about $7 million in cap room (for now) and flexibility beyond this season.
But the big miss also has inspired several X-and-O-centric league watchdogs to believe the 2012-13 Suns are incapable of accomplishing much more than they did the past two seasons.
It’s hardly an easy situation for Gentry, but you rarely find “easy” in an NBA job description. HOTTER CLIMATE FOR WING
After slouching his way through two seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wesley Johnson will have an opportunity to shine in Phoenix.
“He was in a situation where he needed a new environment,” Suns general manager Lance Blanks said of Johnson, the fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft.
The cold(-shooting) environment in Minneapolis included a rookie season spent attempting to navigate through coach Kurt Rambis’ interpretation of the triangle offense. Johnson, who made a tick under 40 percent of his shots from the field in his first NBA season, averaged nine points.
Rambis was replaced by Rick Adelman, who ended up playing Johnson a little less … and that’s what the T-wolves received.
Although Blanks said the 6-foot-7 Johnson should benefit from the Suns’ less “restrictive” style of offense, it should be noted that Adelman’s offensive concepts aren’t exactly considered conservative. The Timberwolves played at a faster tempo than did the Suns last season (ranking fourth in pace compared to eighth) and were sixth in 3-point attempts (the Suns were 15th).
While numbers don’t always accurately define systems, it could be posited that Johnson’s troubles with the T-wolves may have had more to do with playing out of position.
“He’s more of a 3,” said Blanks, referring to the small-forward designation.
Right, in Minnesota, Johnson primarily worked at shooting guard. We also should remind ourselves that too much can be made of positions; another Minny-to-Phoenix player, Michael Beasley, hopes to be evidence of that. Johnson is a bouncy athlete with shooting range, and a talented player should be able to find his way regardless of where he lines up. Offensively, most spread-court-oriented teams create similar space and situations for both wing players.
Johnson, however, also arrived in the NBA after playing nothing but zone at Syracuse. He was promptly asked to guard smaller players off the dribble and chase ’em around screens. Starting out of your comfort zone at one end of the floor often has a big impact at the other.
Unfortunately, the Suns’ only player with two-guard defensive chops is Shannon Brown. Brown shared the position with Jared Dudley last season, but Dudley isn’t exactly Michael Cooper in defending that spot.
If the Suns can help Johnson become effective within what they hope to be another upgraded focus on team defense, we might see him come alive on offense.