PHOENIX – When rumors of a Terry Porter firing and ensuing Alvin Gentry promotion started making the rounds, I originally figured the Suns should just stick it out with Porter because how would Gentry be that much of an upgrade?
Of course, I didn’t realize that Porter had lost this team to the point that just making Nash a player-coach would be a major upgrade. Instead I looked at Gentry’s 177-226 career mark (.439 winning percentage) and his one winning season in seven at least partial years.
Had the Suns sunk so low as to give a former mediocre Clippers coach the keys to their formerly high-powered vehicle?
Then I got to know Alvin Gentry, the man who sat beside Mike D’Antoni the four previous seasons and was the only loyal coach not to jet to New York when D’Antoni skipped town. Gentry was the only link to the glory days, a former assistant who knows what makes the Suns tick.
If you look strictly at the numbers, the Suns went 28-23 (.549) under Porter and then 18-13 (.581) under Gentry. But in this case, numbers don’t tell the whole story.
The Suns looked like a dog chasing its tail under Porter, unsure of what exactly they wanted to be. First, it was all about defense and structure. Then the offense was opened up but still nobody knew what exactly they wanted to do.
Nobody was really happy, and you could tell through their body language and by their play on the floor. The Suns dropped countless games they should have won, and you could tell by the end of his tenure Porter had lost his team.
Enter Gentry, and the Suns scored 140 points in his first three games, took care of business at home (14-3) and beat everybody they were supposed to beat, aside from that disaster in Sacramento.
Of course, the Suns struggled mightily against good teams on the road, not winning even one such game until it was too late, and the defense was all in all pretty terrible.
But the offense was historically good, as the Suns shot up the ranks to lead the league in offensive efficiency for the season due to Gentry’s two months.
A team that took a step back offensively under Porter all of a sudden raced out to four of the top eight regulation scoring games of the past 10 years in Gentry’s first month on the job.
And all of this happened without Amare Stoudemire for all but two easy victories over the Clippers.
Gentry can coach up an offense, sure, but the preceding facts don’t do justice to how good of a people person Gentry is. He’s a players’ coach and a man players love to play for.
It’s been widely discussed how Gentry told Goran Dragic while mic’ed up for a TNT game to “just play” and not worry about mistakes. Dragic has been a different player under Gentry.
So has Jared Dudley, who couldn’t get off the bench under Porter and then deservedly started playing crucial crunch-time minutes under Gentry.
Robin Lopez also started to show signs of an NBA game, and overall Gentry became the first Suns coach to develop a bench since D’Antoni took over the top chair. At times Gentry would play his entire bench together, a move I don’t exactly love, but it showed the confidence he had in that bunch, confidence that was ultimately repaid.
I know this next point doesn’t really matter, but it does show the kind of person Gentry is for thanking the media for its coverage of his team, positive and negative, throughout the year at his season-ending presser. That’s far from standard protocol in the Association.
Gentry wants to be back, Kerr wants him back and all the players seem to want him back.
So unless something unexpected happens, expect an announcement any day about Gentry being named the Suns’ head coach without an interim tag in the middle.
“He’s done a terrific job,” Kerr said. “I’ve said it all along, the way he developed our younger players, the emotional turnaround we had, he led that change, and he deserves to back, and we’re going to work on it, that’s our first order of business.”
Added Gentry, “I think Steve and Robert (Sarver) both know how I feel about this team and what the potential of this team could be, and they know that I want to be a part of it. To me it’s a good marriage, we’ll just see if it works out.”
Of course, you could call Gentry “D’Antoni Lite” and you could complain about him not being the guy who can help the Suns turn the corner defensively. That’s why it might be smart for Phoenix to hire a defensive coordinator to flank Gentry.
But with Gentry you know the Suns will run up and down, score a ton of points and play true to their style, which was not the kind of coach Phoenix’s brass was looking for at this time last year.
It’s interesting how a year ago the Suns desired toughness and defensive intensity in their new coach, whereas this season after watching what a failed attempt at toughness and defensive intensity got them, everybody (myself included) favors the status quo of what the Suns have been.
Even Nash talked about how he just hopes the Suns foster a positive and optimistic environment in which everybody’s having fun. From there, we can all start worrying about championships again.
When the Suns inevitably bring back Gentry, at least we know there will be no clashes with players (beyond normal stuff), no ambiguity in their style and no acclimation process with the roster.
Officially hiring Gentry seems to be a no-brainer.
If only the rest of the offseason decisions were so simple.