PHOENIX – Something didn’t feel right on Planet Orange, and though it still might feel uneasy, let’s focus on the past.
The Phoenix Suns and head coach Alvin Gentry decided it was best to move in a new direction, and the team mutually parted ways with the head coach of five-plus years on Friday. The decision came suddenly and after owner Robert Sarver had gone on the record to say Gentry’s job was safe for the rest of the year.
“This is not something we planned for,” Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby said Friday. “Robert Sarver was direct and blunt in saying that Alvin would be here for the rest of the year. That was our intent all along, that was the commitment we had made.
“But sometimes in this business, you get to a point where it just doesn’t feel right, and we just reached that point.”
Phoenix will take the next 48 hours to hire an interim head coach from within the organization, and Babby said that the coach will indeed be entering with an interim tag.
Babby refused to go into the front office’s discussions with Gentry or how it would move forward looking for an interim coach, though Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Elston Turner is a favorite of Sarver while Lindsey Hunter could be placed on the backburner to take over after this year.
Babby didn’t have a calculated reason for the firing. He and Sarver asked to meet with the coach last night after the loss to the Bucks. After a long discussion, the three decided to meet again Friday morning, and the final decision was made then, Babby said.
“There is no animosity or acrimony,” Babby said, “and I think he feels the same way.”
So what is it that Gentry did or didn’t do?
It’s hard to say, and the Suns front office might not know why Gentry ultimately failed. Chemistry between Gentry and his players could be one issue. Well-liked or not, it was clear that the Suns were going through lapses in focus. Maybe he didn’t reach them 100 percent of the time.
“Every coach has different strengths and weaknesses, different chemistry with each group,” Babby said. “The point I was trying to make is, the decision for Alvin and us to part ways is not a reflection in the quality of him as a coach.
“It’s just that at this time, at this place, at this moment with this group, it just wasn’t working.”
The Suns’ 13-28 record made that clear. At the same time, it wasn’t completely about the record. Babby said that the expectations weren’t too high and the win-loss numbers weren’t necessarily the problem. What was clear, again going back to that “feel,” was the lack of progress through the first half of the year.
“I think we gave him a team that we thought was better than how we’re playing,” Babby said. “I wouldn’t put that all on him. That’s not what this is about. It’s just a feel that we weren’t moving forward. I don’t think Alvin felt like we were.”
Handling young teams just might not be where Gentry’s talents lie. Perhaps his best attributes – motivating teams that don’t need the hand-holding that this Suns team dearly needs – were perfect for that 2009-10 Western Conference Finals team, as Michael Schwartz wrote in 2010.
Babby read, word-for-word, a statement at the beginning of his press conference on Friday. He made it clear that everyone from the front office to the locker room had accountability.
“Transitions are not easy,” the prepared statement read. “We know we are in the midst of one. We are all accountable and we all need to do better. A new coach will not be a magic elixir. Only hard work and perseverance will move us forward.”
But, of course, so will the decisions of the front office in the next 48 hours and beyond.
Alvin Gentry’s statement from a Suns release: ““After nine years with the Suns, the organization and I came to a mutual agreement to go in different directions,” Gentry said. “I have the utmost respect for (Suns Managing Partner) Robert (Sarver) and what he’s done with the organization. It’s unfortunate that I was unable to accomplish what I set out to do here.”
Babby on if the front office was unhappy about how Gentry dealt with his rotations and personnel use: “There’s this … misperception that somehow a front office dictates to a coach who we should play. We have never done that. Alvin was the coach of the team, and his job was to play who he thought was appropriate. There was no dissatisfaction (in that regard).
“If there were discussions to be had, it was an open dialog back-and-forth. So the suggestion that he wasn’t following orders; first of all, there were no orders, and second of all, that’s not Alvin Gentry.”
Babby on what he’d like to see for the rest of this year: “I want us to progress culturally. I want us to see some modest or substantial growth in our young players. I want us to play hard every night, which for the most part we’ve done.”
“Maybe the emphasis is going to shift a little bit in the direction of player development … we’re still trying to win games, we’re still trying to compete, but maybe the emphasis is slightly altered.”