Suns make a change for change's sake
PHOENIX – So, Alvin Gentry and the Phoenix Suns have come to the shared conclusion that someone else should coach this struggling NBA team.
Examining this opinion from the perspective of Gentry, who’s been the team’s head coach since February 2009, is something we’re going to skip.
Instead, our expected task should be deciding how we feel about the Suns’ portion of this mutually pondered development.
I could pound the keyboard and declare that mutually agreeing to have someone other than Alvin coaching the Suns is a terrible idea. Or I could lob major props at owner Robert Sarver and president of basketball operations Lon Babby, writing that – with the team crawling to this season’s halfway point at 13-28 – it’s about stinking time.
But I won’t do either. Why not? Well, because I just don’t know.
For context in this predicament, let’s check in with Babby.
“He was the perfect coach with the previous group,” Babby -- referring to Suns teams that featured Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire -- said of Gentry during a Friday afternoon press conference at US Airways Center.
In Babby’s interpretation of events, Gentry just isn’t the guy to coach the current group.
“Sometimes it just doesn’t feel right,” said Babby, who sort of refused to get into technical specifics of why Gentry was ushered out. “It wasn’t about wins and losses. It was about a feel of where the group was progressing.”
As someone who traipses through the Suns locker room before and after every game, this is a group that had the feel of several guys in progression toward a greater calamity. It didn’t yet seem like fistfights on the horizon, but an undercurrent of disharmony was translating to the hardwood.
Let’s just say that losing 13 of their last 15 games has escorted a few players to the role of unhappy campers. The point guard, for example, recently said only three Suns play hard on a consistent basis. The center has been unhappy with his offensive-participation rate since Nash dribbled off to Hollywood.
Yeah, it really seemed that Gentry was the perfect coach for the previous group, but not so perfect for this one. The previous group had more talent and a considerably high level of basketball aptitude than the current group.
The current group, it should be pointed out, was put together by Babby and general manager Lance Blanks, who – like Gentry – are in the final year of their contracts.
For the record, just coming in and grabbing superstars isn’t exactly a breeze. With Babby and Blanks at the helm, the Suns hardly struck gold in their first two drafts, but they did manage to sort of successfully woo Eric Gordon (for good or bad) with a whopping contract offer, subsequently matched, and collect a bag of future draft selections.
Babby also was eager to point out that Gentry’s shared-dismissal solution had nothing to do with which players played and which didn’t. If had been speculated that not playing off-season additions Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson contributed to Alvin’s doom.
So, beyond simply losing, Sarver and Babby now preside over a team that was seemingly headed toward an emotional implosion. Lacking sufficient talent to win games without playing hard and together, the Suns were managing to reach defeat in many head-scratching, eye-rolling ways.
Although he avoided those pesky specifics regarding what Gentry did or didn’t do, Babby said the current Suns are “Regressing. We have to have our culture moving forward.”
And by culture, he wasn’t referring to blasting opera tunes in the locker room as pre-game motivation. It’s the culture of winning -- of not just playing hard but playing the right way together -- that this team hasn’t demonstrated.
Gentry is familiar with that culture, because it helped the Suns reach the Western Conference finals in 2010. But with the current roster he’s been obliged to work with, he has been unable to inspire transcendent cohesion among middling-level talent.
Getting rid of him is the thing to do then, right?
Well, only if his eventual replacement is better at rallying his players toward a collective effort and making adjustments than Gentry has been.
Babby, who’s aiming to have an interim coach in place before Sunday’s practice, will choose the successor from the Suns’ current pool of assistants.
Press-room gossip suggested the smart money should be on skill-development chief Lindsey Hunter, with veteran defensive-oriented assistant Elston Turner and former Suns star Dan Majerle also on the short list.
Will one of these guys have more success than Gentry? Like Babby, I have a feeling about where this could be going, but until Hunter or Turner or Majerle spend time on the job, how is anyone to really know?
With 41 games to use as an audition, Babby and Sarver can sit back and judge whether to anoint this interim coach as the full-time leader or go out and find someone else. Will the interim guy enjoy a honeymoon of player harmony, ball movement and help defense? A temporary uprising certainly wouldn’t be shocking.
But would it translate to next season?
The opportunity to see someone else leading the team does make more sense than sitting back and grinding our teeth while Gentry and the Suns stagger toward the finish line.
This stagger, however, has the capacity to help the flexible Suns begin to add talented players who are a lot more like the players Gentry coached during the relative glory days.
See, even if Alvin Gentry isn’t the perfect coach for the current team, here's a sobering concept: There probably shouldn’t be a perfect coach for a team like this. Rather than blame Gentry for a culture regression, how about building a roster with players who’ve already shown a willingness to play for each other?
With a few more months left to demonstrate that he and Blanks should be allowed to play with the Suns’ draft picks and cap flexibility, Babby couldn’t fire the current players and hire the Oklahoma City Thunder as an interim team.
So, sitting at a grumpy, grumbling 13-28, the Suns will take their marching orders from another voice. If they respond, play smarter and as a unit, they can win a little and kick start that culture change.
But judging the mutually decided removal of Alvin Gentry shouldn’t be considered a wise move until we see the work of his eventual replacement.