Porter officially done, Gentry to bring back the fun

Has Porter coached his last Suns game?

Porter and the Suns added to America's divorce rate Sunday night by ending a marriage that just wasn't meant to be.

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.

Does Gentry's hiring mean the return of SSOL ball? Suns fans can only hope.

Does Gentry's promotion mean the return of SSOL ball? We can only hope.

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.

  • http://morgamic.com/ Mike

    Porter had to go. Even if he could be a good coach, he has a team that's already good and should be performing. I think he should probably coach college ball (and that's not a slight, it's probably a better place to learn coaching and you can make a huge impact).

    As far as the excuses, I wanted to debunk a lot of them:

    1) Should have given him a year. He didn't have enough time.

    Chemistry and player morale was at an all time low. Since 2009 started, they've quit on him and Nash was seen even giving up on plays. Body language and intangibles were negative or absent, and this culminated in many of their blowouts, where the team literally would blow up.

    The turning point, I think, was against Philadelphia when Porter pulled everyone when down just 11 points with almost 10 minutes to go. That's a losing mentality. There was also the embarrassing loss to Golden State where Porter failed to realize that Azubuike could actually make threes (and ESPN even called him on this).

    This mentality manifests itself during end-game situations as well. The Suns suck in the last two minutes because they are unprepared and don't have confidence. Two things a coach are supposed to help provide.

    Porter had enough time, and it was obvious that he had given up and his players had done the same.

    2) Porter is a great guy and everyone respects him.

    Sure, but cause and effect have little to do with who is nice and who is a good guy. It's business, man.

    The smallest deed is greater than the largest intention and Porter didn't deliver on any of the promises he made. Defense was horrible, offense changed pace but was predictable and caused turnovers. And what about the givens or intangibles a coach provides?

    Confidence, morale, belief, motivation, preparation. Those don't just happen because you were a great player in the NBA. They happen because you care and you nurture 1-1 relationships and carry yourself properly in group situations.

    So to all of you playing violins for Terry — he'll be fine. People get fired all the time in this league for many reasons, but the bottom line is that he wasn't winning games he was supposed to win, and the stats don't lie.

    The fact that Terry was a good player is irrelevant. Isaiah Thomas wasn't a great coach either.

    3) It's the players' fault.

    Really? Blame the kids, huh? Throw the team under the bus? This is a better team than they had last year, believe it or not. Grant has his legs, Richardson is a weapon on both ends of the floor and Amundsen hustles harder than Boris ever could.

    Most college or high school coaches could dominate if handed this team, and I firmly believe that.

    They have the talent, and they need someone to challenge them, motivate them, and give them a solid game plan that works a few times in a row so they start to really believe. That's it.

    Porter was best at saying "keep up the intensity" or "keep up the energy". He wasn't talking about not entering the post from the top of the key, getting back in transition or focusing on when to throw it back out on the wing and run a pick in roll instead of ground and pound.

    He was out of focus, and now matter how many times you yell at your team to pick up the intensity, it's never going to be a solid substitute for scouting, positive reinforcement and a better plan to execute.

    4) It's Kerr/Sarver's fault.

    Porter is responsible for coaching the team. The rest is details. You can complain and whine about crappy first-round decisions and Sarver's tendency to ship off talent for extra value meals — but fact remains that Porter had a good squad, their strength of schedule was weak and they underperformed.

    I don't think Kerr and Sarver have anything to do with the team's attitude towards Terry or Terry's poor decision making and game management. That's on Terry, and he needs to accept responsibility for it — and the fans should understand that.

    So before you mail it in, watch what happens this week. Suns have clips twice and okc before Boston. The team you see on Sunday will be a different team and you're going to start to see things you haven't seen most of the season…

    Confidence, hustle and fire.

  • N8lol

    Nice, timely article! Hope it had something to do with my comment earlier. Or maybe we are just on the same wavelength.

    Ok, love your analysis but let me throw something out there and see how you and others react. I too loved Mike and I too thought that he needed to emphasize a little more D after last years end. Yet I am not sure that a similar thing to this wouldn’t have happened to the Suns if Mike had stayed around. I dont believe that they would be this inconsistent, but I also dont believe they would be much closer to a Championship. Here is the problem, the rest of the league has caught up! The Suns innovated the offensive style of the game and, once again, basketball is what it should be, entertaining! But the other teams of the NBA don’t see the Suns style as so confusing and it was clear from their dropping win percentage that the run game, while effective, was not enough. I am convinced that the only reason we did as well as we did was b/c we had Nash. Gentry will bring some of this back and Nash will be Nash again. BUT! If and when Steve gets too old to be effective anymore, what happens then? This system does not work without him and all attempts at creating a new PG like Nash have been failures. I dont blame Porter or Mike for only an 8 man rotation. how can you when it is so blatantly obvious that without Nash on the floor 8 of 10 times the Suns are just trying to stay afloat. A new coach will not solve this problem. Bottom line, we need some new blood and fast. I do not, under any circumstances endorse the trading of Shaq or Amare, they are too valuable. But for the future of the franchise, the Suns have to do much better on their rookies.

  • Baguete (Sao Paulo – Brazil)

    I don’t care if we are fun to watch or not. I just want our team to win a championship.

    I just hate the direction we are heading since Sarver bought our team.

    I know two years from now is a long time. But how will our team look like?

  • http://morgamic.com/ Mike

    I think in two years we’ll still be in the playoffs and will have a good coach. Sarver and Kerr may very well be out of the picture as well.

  • Kenny

    In two years we will have a lot of money to spend. We will have a lot space to fill. Anything is possible by then. I also think Mike is right. Sarver and Kerr may be gone by then. And that leaves infinite possibility.

  • http://www.valleyofthesuns.com Michael Schwartz

    Assuming Amare is traded by then/opts out of his $17.7 mil option, the only players on the books guaranteed will be J-Rich for $14.4 mil, LB for $7.1 and Dragic for $2 mil. Team options for around $2 mil for Lopez, Tucker and Dudley are likely to be picked up. That’s only about $29.5 mil, so unless Amare is extended, that’s a ton of cash to play with and only J-Rich, LB and the kids to build around. But I think it’s fairly certain that a major roster move will be made before we get that far.

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