It’s one thing to make a mistake, but it’s another thing to be man enough to admit that mistake.
That’s what the Suns have done by firing Terry Porter and promoting assistant Alvin Gentry to interim head coach.
“I hired Terry because I believed he would be able to provide the balance our team needed in order to perform at a very high level,” GM Steve Kerr said in a release. “Unfortunately, the transition from last season to this one proved to be very difficult, and we have not played to our potential. It’s imperative that we move forward and do what’s best for our team. Alvin has been an integral part of our successes the previous four years and knows our talent as well as anyone.”
First off on Porter, this was a marriage with the best of intentions that just didn’t seem to work.
I’m probably the biggest D’Antoni supporter you will ever meet, but it was obvious by the end of last season’s playoff loss to the Spurs that a change needed to be made. D’Antoni thought Kerr was undermining his authority, and Kerr thought D’Antoni was too stubborn to play a little defense and use his bench a bit more.
The situation became toxic, and D’Antoni had to go, which is unfortunate because as we’ve all seen there’s no better coach than D’Antoni for this crew even with Shaq as could be seen by Phoenix’s 15-5 record down the stretch last season.
Along came Porter, the most experienced coach the Suns looked at, and I’m not going to lie, I thought it was a good hire at the time.
I would be wrong on that count.
In theory, Kerr hiring a former teammate who he trusted and knew as a tough-minded player who emphasized defense was exactly what a Suns team heavy on ‘O’ but short on ‘D’ needed.
As we know now, Porter tried to fix something that wasn’t broke on offense, and tried to get a team that will never be a great defensive team to play defense.
Offensively, nobody was comfortable slowing things down, and as TrueHoop’s Kevin Arnovitz wrote, Nash in November looked like a “hummingbird trapped inside a sandwich bag.”
Porter eventually sped things up and let Nash do some play calling, but the Suns never established an identity.
Defensively, the Suns were about the same as they’ve been under D’Antoni, ranking 19th by yielding 106.1 points per 100 possessions this season after ranking 16th by allowing 105.1 last year.
The Suns’ field-goal percentage defense stayed static as well: 45.2 percent this year, 45.6 percent last year, 45.7 percent in 06-07, 45.4 percent in 05-06 and 44.5 percent in 04-05.
Porter also never developed any depth, playing a strict eight-man rotation after the first month or so just like D’Antoni was faulted for.
Worst of all, Porter seemed to lose the respect and confidence of his players, as nobody publicly pleaded for him to stay, and Amare Stoudemire seemed to seal Porter’s fate when saying the players need to just play for each other when asked about Porter after the Cleveland game.
There were also the long practices and focus on fundamentals some veterans felt were embarrassing at training camp and a poorly-timed tongue lashing after the Chicago game. Overall, Porter’s grinding ways made him a bad fit for a team used to D’Antoni’s country club atmosphere.
I have written many times believing Porter deserved one full season, because how often do coaches with winning records get fired eight months after they were hired?
But this clearly wasn’t working, and the Suns had to do what they could to salvage the season.
That brings us to Gentry, who has been a head coach three different times and will be entering his third interim stint. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but at least he’s used to such a situation.
Gentry is a 29-year coaching veteran and he understands Phoenix’s roster having been here since Nash arrived in 2004.
But he owns a career mark of just 177-226 (.439) and has only once taken a team to the playoffs. When he coached the Clippers from 2000-03, he wasn’t exactly known as the next great head coach.
For those reasons, I was first hesitant about a Porter firing, knowing Gentry would likely take over. Yes, those Iavaroni rumors are intriguing and maybe in the offseason he would be the best guy for the job, but after eating about $4 million of Porter’s salary the Suns aren’t going to throw money at anybody else this season, and it would be disruptive to bring in a coach from outside, even a former assistant.
The more I’ve thought about it the more I like the idea of Gentry being a D’Antoni Lite after being one of Coach Mike’s top assistants during the SSOL Era. We now know the Suns will run – Gentry said at his presser he wants “to establish a breakneck pace like we’ve had in the past” – and I think that can only make them better.
Gentry also plans to model his game plan off the Feb. 8 win in Detroit in which the Suns ran with Nash dishing 21 assists while also giving O’Neal enough touches to go for 20 and 10.
Short term I think this will energize a team that will likely enjoy going back to playing fast, and not only is playing fast the right identity for this team but it will be first time the Phoenix Suns have had an identity all season.
The next few months will be very interesting to see if Porter really was the problem or if he was merely the first Suns employee to take the fall.