Why are the Suns blowing leads?

Posted by on January 15th, 12:03 am

At this point a 20-point lead for the Phoenix Suns is about as safe as jumping into a pit of fatally venomous snakes after they haven’t eaten for a month, as evidenced by the leads they have blown here and here and here and here and here.

The Suns have blown leads of 24 twice this week as well as leads of 20, 16 and 13 points earlier in 2010, and my calendar says we’re just two weeks into the new year. Man, it’s going to be a looooong decade at this rate.

Phoenix blowing leads has become a joke that’s not funny because the punch line is too damn predictable, and we’re not even talking about blown leads of 20, 19, 17 and 15 in the middle of December.

The question now is, who’s to blame? The answer probably involves a number of different factors, but today we’re going to debate two of them: head coach Alvin Gentry and the players themselves.

Point: Gentry at fault for blown leads

Few would argue that the Suns didn’t exceed expectations at the start of this season. But since starting 14-3, the Suns have gone 10-12. The 10-12 Suns are worse than what people predicted the Suns would be. The strange thing is, at least three or four of those 12 losses could have been easy wins if not for the recent blown leads.

And when teams start losing, everyone looks for a scapegoat. But amazingly (in stark contrast to last season’s sad start under Terry Porter), head coach Alvin Gentry remains unscathed amidst losses to mediocre opponents like the Indiana Pacers and huge blown leads against teams like the Milwaukee Bucks. Few fingers have pointed to Gentry because he has exceeded expectations with this squad to this point. But now that things aren’t consistently pleasant, it may be time to evaluate the man walking the side of the court.

There’s little doubt that Steve Nash is the Suns’ on-court leader. He’s in charge on the floor and he makes the offense tick. But Gentry is ultimately the general, and it is up to him to get his troops prepared for battle night in and night out. It is a coach’s responsibility to make sure his players are prepared physically and mentally each game. A sense of urgency has to start with the head coach. If he doesn’t impart to his players that every game is must-win, they will get complacent and comfortable and won’t come out every night.

Furthermore, it is a coach’s responsibility to put the right players on the floor. If Jason Richardson is having one of his atrocious shooting games, pull him. If Channing Frye is ice cold, put in Robin Lopez. And if the usually impressive and reliable bench is giving away a big lead in the second quarter, put the starters back in.

But maybe it isn’t a player problem; maybe it’s in-game complacency. Maybe the players get comfortable with 20-plus point leads and start taking it easy. That’s when opponents take advantage. And if the players start to panic, it’s up to Gentry to call a timeout and get their heads back in the right place. But it shouldn’t get to this point. Gentry shouldn’t let the players get complacent with big leads.

I’m not trying to pin the Suns’ problems squarely on Gentry. As far as I can see, he’s done as much with this team as anyone could, and maybe more. He’s consistently tried to stay grounded in each game and tried to forget about wins and losses quickly, moving on to the next task.

The old saying says that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. That may be true, but when a team’s greatest consistency is building colossal leads only to give them away, a look at the man in charge isn’t unreasonable.

– Tyler Lockman

Counterpoint: Players win games, players blow leads

Alvin Gentry can kick, scream, curse, stomp his feet and break clipboards. He can provide scouting reports, encouragement and pep talks.

But at the end of the day, the NBA is a player’s game and it’s up to the players to win and lose games.

I feel a coach should be judged by his relationship with his players (and thus how hard they want to play for him) and his strategy.

Terry Porter was a terrible fit for the Suns because he didn’t connect with Nash and (possibly with some help from above) tried to turn the Suns into something that they weren’t. By midseason, he lost his team, and that’s why he got his walking papers over the All-Star break.

Alvin Gentry is a player’s coach to the max. He makes it a point to speak with each of his players every day so that they’re always on the same page, and he’s running the kind of up-tempo, Nash-led system that provides this particular team with its best chance to win.

Gentry is more frustrated than anybody about what has happened to his once-mighty Suns over the past month and a half.

He looked like he had just learned that a relative passed away during his press conference after the Milwaukee game, and he’s called smart timeouts as the Suns have started to blow their past few leads. He has also impressed upon his Suns the need to never let up ad nauseam.

But he can’t rebound, he can’t get out on wide-open shooters and he’s not committing careless turnovers.

“It’s nothing the coaches are doing, it’s the players,” said Jason Richardson, “and we’ve got to get better at that.”

Maybe you can blame some of the early blown leads on complacency or Gentry and the coaching staff letting their players get fat with a big lead.

But ALL anybody has been talking about the past week when it comes to the Suns has been blown leads, so you know they weren’t content with a 24-point lead over an Indiana team that overcame a 23-point deficit just two days earlier on the same night that the Suns blew a 24-point lead of their own.

I really think it’s just mental. Steve Nash even admitted on Monday that he can sometimes feel that lead slipping away, but there’s just nothing the Suns have been able to do about it.

That’s when it’s time for team leaders like Nash, Amare and Grant Hill to step up and bury a team.

For all Gentry can do on the sideline, it’s ultimately up to the players to stop this lead-blowing trend.

– Michael Schwartz

Michael Schwartz founded ValleyoftheSuns in October 2008 and is the owner/editor emeritus of the site. He is currently working toward his MBA in sports business at San Diego State University.

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Tags: Alvin Gentry · Phoenix Suns · Phoenix Suns Analysis · Steve Nash

17 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Tyler // Jan 15, 2010 at 7:50 am

    Based on how the team has played I’d say they are below expectations and unless theres a change I expect them to miss the playoffs. Jared Dudley doesn’t shoot the 3 ball anymore, the Nash and A’mare pick and roll hasn’t worked very well all season. I haven’t seen Nash and Dragic on the court at the same time in ages. I don’t see any enthusiasm at all, “we have to get better” doesn’t work for me. I hate to give up on them, but unless they can fix this problem this is just another blown season with lots of pain and suffering to the point wheres its hard to watch.

  • 2 Ted // Jan 15, 2010 at 9:37 am

    It's disappointment, and hard to watch, but blowing big leads shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who's watched a lot of Sun's games over the past 5-6 years. It has always been a problem. I've always liked that the suns usually go for good character guys, but I think that is the problem with blowing these leads, we don't have anybody with a killer instinct. Nash can have a killer instinct when were down big and he needs to score 10 points in a minute, but he doesn't have it when we are up big. I think J-rich and Amar'e need to be the guys who put the nail in the coffin with big 3's are rim-rattling dunks.

  • 3 nejay // Jan 15, 2010 at 10:27 am

    when a team is build to just chuck threes mindlessly and dont play a much defense. what can you expect , blown leads will be a common thing with the suns.

  • 4 Roadster sl // Jan 15, 2010 at 10:58 am

    It's all about defense…i've rpeated this over and over again….the Suns do not play defense with the intensity they should…the only one that brings a lot of "grit" to the floor is Amundson but the rest just is just laid back. The second half against the Pacers the Suns could not make one stop….they did not challenge the 3point shot and they did not guard the paint, from leading Indiana by a couple of rebounds they fell 10 behind at the end of the game! The Pacers are not exactly an NBA rebounding powerhouse, so the only conclusion can be the Suns are just not trying hard enough. I wonder if Gentry and his staff consistently work on defense during practise. I've said several weeks ago that the Suns need to shave 4 or 5 points off the opponnents scoring average if they want to make the playoffs….they have been doing the opposite letting them score a whopping 113 ppg during the last 6 games. The Suns need help – NEW PERSONEL – trade JRich and Frye (the core of the Suns inconsistency) and get a strong rebounder and 2 gritty defensive guards. The whole concept of Frye taking 3pointers is deadly when he misses because suddenly your center is nowhere near the rebound. He doesn't have an inside game and on an offnight he's easily defended and harmless. JRich doesn't bring the same confidence and leadership to the floor of last year, he's visibly struggling and looks like he has lost his footing in the team…he belongs somewhere else. Bring on Lopez, Dragic and Clark early in the game and make Dudley a role player again..he was not born to be a star.

  • 5 John C. // Jan 15, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    I agree with the above comments. The team through the draft, free agency, or trade needs to replace some existing personnel with players who have a motor, physically aggressive, an attitude, and team oriented.

    Watching the painful loss against the Hawks tonight, in the 4th quarter I had to admire Steve Nash. He does have the heart of champion. He made big shots and played hard on defense.

  • 6 asani // Jan 15, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    J rich and Frye can get the hell off the team. Trade those two right now. J Rich and Frye play the same, they only shoot threes and rarely make them so they can hall ass off the team. Gentry needs to reckognize who is playing well and stop playing guys who bring nothing to the table. This shit is upsetting and I am about to shop around for a new team to root for because these fairies aren't getting it.

  • 7 Hawks 102, Suns 101 -- 'Tough as it gets'| Valley of the Suns // Jan 16, 2010 at 12:06 am

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  • 8 Ted // Jan 16, 2010 at 6:43 am

    "they only shoot threes and rarely make them"

    Uhhh I know J-Rich hasn't been shooting particularly well, but Frye is shooting 44% from the 3 this season and is at least top 2 in 3-pointers made…

    Getting rid of Frye would be ridiculous, he is custom made for this team, sure he can go cold sometimes, but everyone does, and when he's off, like last night at the hawks, we have Lopez. Lopez looked pretty sick last night, and I'd bet by the end of the season Frye and Lopez are splitting time at center and will be a fierce 1-2 punch for the suns. Lopez can play great D, rebound, and block, he just has not had much time to play.

    Fryes contract is so small too we'd prolly have to give up a number of other players to get anyone worth while. I agree we could give up J-Rich, but we would have to package some combo of him LB Dragic, Amundson, Dudley, etc. And we end being in a position we were not long ago, a team not many are sure can win with no young talent, and thus no future.

  • 9 Patrick // Jan 16, 2010 at 7:35 am

    The Suns are a different team loaded with offensive possibilities. It's pretty clear they're not going to become an excellent defensive team, so I think maximizing the strengths they have right now (transition, pace, scoring weapons), is the only way they'll reach 50 wins this year.

    It usually happens that when a team plays the Suns, they get surprised (no mattered how prepared they are) at the speed of the game. Naturally, they adjust, and since the Suns don't have the natural ability to defend, they lose their lead. However, I think this can be changed by simply changing the starting lineup for the third quarter.

    Nash, Stoudemire, Dudley, Barbosa, Lopez

    You keep a 2-player core from the first half, and you change the weapons all around them. With Barbosa and Nash pushing the tempo, and Dudley hustling and chucking threes, Stoudemire and Lopez securing a few rebounds, you'll achieve a pace even FASTER than you had in the first half. The answer for this year's Suns isn't to get slower, it's to get even faster.

    For example: If the Suns go up by 11 at halftime, no one feels secure about that lead. So starting the 2nd half, the Suns push the tempo even harder, and extend that lead even more, so that by the time the 4th quarter rolls around, they might have a slightly bigger lead, and they only need to play one strong quarter of defense to protect it.

  • 10 Preview: Suns (24-16) at Bobcats (18-19)| Valley of the Suns // Jan 16, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    [...] for the Suns squad that continues to baffle fans and players alike. Whether its inconsistency or blown leads, the Suns can’t seem to decide who they are and stay that [...]

  • 11 asani // Jan 16, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    Frye sucks plain and simple. If the guy is off he has nothing else he can bring to the table which leaves the suns with a 7 footer who refuses to go down low and play like a man. As of right now the suns have Amare, Steve, Barbosa and Lou going for them right now. At this point anybody other than them can be traded as far as I am concerned. I use to think Dudley had good D but going back to the way he defended Durant in the critical moments of the game they lost and the way he defended Crawford last night I know he don’t belong on a great offensive scorer. Dudley backed off of Crawford instead of making him drive and have to shoot a two. YOu don’t play dumb defense like that in expect to win shit. The suns just got blowed out by bobcats. They the laughing staff of the nba. Can’t watch them play anymore it is despicable

  • 12 Bobcats 125, Suns 99 -- Rock bottom?| Valley of the Suns // Jan 16, 2010 at 11:08 pm

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  • 13 Mike // Jan 16, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    Not quite sure what to say about this year’s team. Now I might piss a few people off when I say this but I am going to say it anyways. I know Steve Nash is the untouchable of this group but seriously, the league has adjusted to his style of play over the past few years as evidenced by the amount of turnovers he commits during a game. Their needs to be a complete overhaul of the team with the exception of Amare. Channing Frye? I mean there is a reason he didn’t make it with New York and Portland. Sure he has a mean 3 pointer…when he is open. But when teams step out on him he he is useless. Grant Hill plays in spurts. He is usually balls to the wall up until halftime and then tends to disappear. Jason Richardson? Too inconsistent. The focus needs to be more defensive oriented. There has got to be a way of combining fast paced playing with the ability to be able to stop the opponent every now and then. The Suns defensive scheme is atrocious in the fact that they don’t play defense. Alvin Gentry is a great assistant coach that was thrust into a job that no one else wanted at the time. It is my opinion that the Suns GM and owner need to start shopping around for a more qualified coach who stresses the ability to play defense every time down the court. I have been a Suns fan since I moved to Arizona in 1983 and it kills me to see them blow the leads that they have been lately. Amare is the man. It is time to build around him.

  • 14 Roadster sl // Jan 17, 2010 at 1:36 am

    Except for the Suns defense not being there…they DO NOT PLAY DEFENSE…the whole thing of having a 3point shooting center is self-defeating. Here you have a team whose historical problem is rebounding and you add a center to the roster that shoots 3′s from 20+ feet out, hence never in a position to rebound. If he makes every shot, great, because the opposing center does not come out that far to defend, so your guy has a wide open shot. If he doesn’t make it you’e up the proverbial creek….no rebound, transition, etc…. You could remedy that by playing both Lopez and Frye where Lopez takes up the rebounding position, but what about Amare then? Right…asking the question is forcing the answer…..can you play Amare, Frye end Lopez???? Sure, but Gentry has never done that…The botom line is that if the Suns don’t make a swift and drastic move in their roster they can forget about the playoffs this year. The way they’re playing they’re not going to make the 50 win mark …not by a long shot! Loose JRich and Frye and get some defense and rebounding into this team, otherwise just tank up and get a good lottery position. Sounds horrible but it is the reality. I know Kerr and Gentry are going to let it ride untill the allstar break and – by then – it will be too late….end of the story….both Kerr and Gentry will have o leave…get Westphal as the coach and get someone really knowledgeable as a GM. By the way the road trip will end 0-4, that signing was on the wall after the loss to Indiana. Memphis is too big a hurdle for this Suns team. What’s left????? Not a whole lot unless someone starts to (re)act, which I don’t expect, so expect the Suns to be just over .500 at the allstar break and out of playoff contention.
    My view…Suns need major overhaul…might as well do it now…oh yeah, bring on Clark, if he’s not able to contribute for you now he probably never will….you don’t need another Tucker on the bench…it’s so ridiculous, play the guy or trade him….you don’t need a bench sitter and the future is NOW…, so get with it!!!

  • 15 asani // Jan 17, 2010 at 4:08 am

    I think Gentry doesn't need to be the coach because if you just look at the how many games the suns lost that should have been theirs you have to start looking at the coach. They have 17 losses which is unacceptable in my view. Out of those 17 losses we really can go back to about 10 games they should have won. This is ridiculous and if Gentry was smart it would be time to shake up the starting lineup. I say Nash, Barbosa, Clark, Amundson, Stoudemire for a few games and see how well they work together. IF not Amundson start Lopez but Frye doesn't need to start anymore

  • 16 Matt // Jan 17, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    And after such a great start I had my hopes up. Don't get me wrong. I still believe they can save the season and get 50+ wins. I honestly believe one issue that needs to be addressed is Amare. Although he has improved and he did have the eye surgery you'd think when you're playing on a team that is faster paced his numbers would be sky high. As of right now he averages exactly the same amount of turnovers as blocks, steals and assists. I love Amare but he needs to stop putting the ball on the floor(turnovers) and be a little more smarter on defense. I think starting and playing Lopez more will only help Amare. Guaranteed there will be a few minor trades if they don't start winning on the road.

  • 17 King Fahad // Jan 18, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    I always said that we need to have a ‘bipolar’ identity, where we begin with a “run’n gun” unit that can create a big lead for us, then bring in a half-court” unit that can sustain the lead. Run ‘n gun unit: PG-Nash, SG-Barbosa,SF-Richardson,PF-Amar’e,C-Frye. Defensive unit: PG-Dragic,SG-Dudley,SF-Hill,PF-Amundson,C-Fr’opez.

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