Phoenix Suns extend Alvin Gentry through 2013

The Phoenix Suns announced Thursday that the team has signed head coach Alvin Gentry to a contract extension through the 2012-2013 season.

The team announced the extension in a press release Thursday afternoon.  Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby said it was important for the team to extend Gentry before the season started.

“He proved his mettle as the perfect coach for the Suns last season,” Babby said in the release.

The Suns guaranteed Gentry’s 2011-12 season over the summer, and this extension guarantees another year.

The extension hardly comes as a surprise after Gentry led the Suns last season on a surprise campaign to the Western Conference Finals. The team’s chemistry and attitude were no doubt a key factor in that surpassing of nearly everyone’s low expectations, and that chemistry starts with Gentry.

A player once himself, Gentry is a player’s coach. He sticks up for his players and he fights for them. That has proved to be just the kind of leadership this team needs right now. Extending Gentry allows this team to develop further, even in the post Amare Stoudemire world.

“This extension gives me the opportunity to keep improving this team,” Gentry said.  “It shows I’m working for an owner who wants to win and demonstrates the confidence he has in me.”

It hasn’t just been the leadership and chemistry Gentry has provided that’s made this team excel to pre-Terry Porter levels. It’s also been his genius handling of a stocked roster.

A lot of teams with depth like the Suns have would end up with at least one guy unhappy with his playing time. Gentry, however, has been able to find a balance that has kept the team in games and given minutes to deserving players — a stark contrast to the six- to seven-man system Mike D’Antoni ran.

With good bench talent like Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley and Channing Frye, Gentry has maximized the team’s ability to tailor their game to opponents. Gentry knows when to put Frye in and pull defenders to the outside. He knows when to slot Dragic in alongside Nash and he knows when he needs to bring in energy guys like now-departed Louis Amundson.

And on top of his ability to masterfully rotate his players, Gentry has shown that he (usually) knows when to sit guys down. Excluding Frye in the playoffs last season, Gentry seems to have excellent timing in this regard.

The perfect example of this: benching Stoudemire for the second half against the Dallas Mavericks last season. Stoudemire got the message (even if everyone said there wasn’t one being sent) and played like a top-five guy the rest of the year (minus parts of the playoffs).

This extension comes at an opportune time for the organization, as it has seen a lot of turnover since losing to the Lakers in the WCFs.

On the court, the Suns lost Stoudemire, Amundson and Leandro Barbosa. Off the court it was Steve Kerr and David Griffin.

With all that, there are many new faces inside US Airways Center: Babby and new general manager Lance Blanks, Hedo Turkoglu, Josh Childress, and Hakim Warrick. Even a new director of security (Shaq’s former guy, according to the Suns).

With so much change going on, the stability that Gentry provides is crucial. The team can set long-term goals, especially with young players like Dragic and Earl Clark, and short-term goals with Steve Nash still playing like an MVP and an established group.

Furthermore, this is simply more evidence that Robert Sarver is dedicated to this team’s success. With a reputation for being cheap, Sarver went out and spent this offseason. He made Stoudemire a good offer, but STAT was set on leaving. He got Childress and paid him. He paid Frye and Warrick.

Sarver innovated the front office structure. And now he has rewarded a coach who has far exceeded expectations. Gentry has shown that he wants to be in Phoenix, and now he can be, so long as the Suns keep winning.

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