5-on-5: The Phoenix Suns' halfway point

The news of Alvin Gentry’s departure was nothing but a shock, and now things change a bit for the Phoenix Suns as they move on to the second half of the season. The full ValleyoftheSuns crew, including Michael Schwartz (who we assume is somewhere in California drinking Mai Tai’s with Alvin Gentry) takes a look back and a peek forward of what’s coming next in Phoenix.

1) The first half of the 2012-13 season was …

Michael Schwartz: Predictable. The majority of computer simulations and NBA analysts figured the Suns would hover around the bottom of the West, so it should come as a shock to nobody that that is exactly where they are.

Dave Dulberg: Necessary. In order to truly rebuild, you have to do it in the draft. The best way to get there is by being really, really bad. It’s never fun losing, but their eyes need to be on the June draft at this point.

Ryan Weisert: Painful. Divorces are always messy. The fact that they get drawn out longer than they should only makes them worse. Since Amare left, the Suns have been growing apart from their former success. This season, both success and relevancy couldn’t take it any more and walked out on the Suns for good.

Matt Petersen: … the worst-case scenario of life on Planet Orange post-Steve Nash. For all of management’s crowing about “remaining competitive while rebuilding,” the Suns have looked anything but competitive. In fact, they look resigned to being among the worst teams in the league.

Kevin Zimmerman: Complicated. While the Suns were expected to be bad, they’ve managed to plant themselves at the bottom of the Western Conference, have suddenly parted ways with their coach but in short spurts have not looked as bad as their record indicates.

2) Alvin Gentry did a _____ job with the Suns in the first half of the season.

Schwartz: Adequate. Gentry could have done better with the Beasley situation both in terms of expected role and eventual playing time, but this just isn’t a prototypical Gentry roster that goes a legit 10 deep. He kept the Suns playing hard every night, and ultimately was fired because he was given a situation in which he just couldn’t win.

Dulberg: Admirable. He lost a two-time MVP and a veteran glue guy in his locker room. In their place is a collection of mixed parts. It’s hard to coach when your team lacks one important thing: talent.

Petersen: He did about as much as any coach could have with such a subpar roster. Phil Jackson’s tenure with Kobe, Smush Parker and Kwame Brown proved even the best coaches are limited by the talent at their disposal. Gentry’s experience in 2010 (Western Conference Finals) and 2012 (worst in the West) is further proof.

Weisert: Futile. Despite some preseason optimism, this is not a very talented roster. All the new faces simply masked a rebuilding effort that was and is nowhere near completion. Alvin Gentry has done great things in Phoenix, but there was no way he could make this year’s team a winner.

Zimmerman: Un-Gentry-like. For a coach that was known for pushing the right buttons and finding the right pieces, this years team just didn’t respond to Gentry – talent aside. Then again, he was known to motivate veteran teams, not a mismatch crew like this.

3) Who or what has surprised you most so far, be it good or bad?

Schwartz: Perhaps it’s just my own naivety, but I didn’t think Beasley would be this bad. The Suns are roughly 10 points per 100 possessions worse when he plays and his shooting percentage and PER are both abysmal. P.J. Tucker has been a pleasant surprise, largely because I expected nothing from him.

Dulberg: It has to be P.J. Tucker. Look on every other team he probably never gets a chance to start. But after the season he’s had at defensive end, it’s very surprising that he’s been out of the league since 2006. You can’t coach his level of energy.

Petersen: I’m surprised no one has at least gotten greedy on a team that desperately needs someone to step up. Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley, Markieff Morris…anyone could have taken this year as a selfish opportunity to stand out. Instead, the closest thing to that happening has been a lot of Shannon Brown’s inefficiency.

Weisert: How much the Suns miss Channing Frye. In Frye’s first two seasons, Phoenix was top-3 in the league in 3-pointers made. This year the Suns have fallen to 25th. The lack of outside shooting has clogged the lane for post play and penetration alike and Phoenix’s offense has completely stagnated.

Zimmerman: I must eat crow and go with Beasley. I couldn’t have imagined the talent I saw dominate at Kansas State would turn into someone lacking so much confidence, especially when given the freedom to play to what were supposedly his strengths.

4) Who, in Dennis Green’s words, are who we thought they were?

Schwartz: Luis Scola is what Luis Scola has always been. He’s a steady, dependable player who will give you a consistent effort night in and night out. Jared Dudley also has delivered the same kind of hustle and shooting we’ve grown to expect out of him.

Dulberg: I thought they would finish 14 games below .500. Apparently I’m on pace to be off by about 14 games. They have plenty of complementary pieces, no star and a complete lack of identity. That much is not a surprise, as they are a product of trying to rebuild mainly through free agency/trade. It doesn’t work.

Petersen: Shannon Brown is who we thought he is: a scorer who thinks he’s a lot better than he really is. A 42-percent shooter should never have an undimmed green light. He’s like the pick-up game guy who misses four in a row. Just when you’re ready to rip into him for his next shot, he makes it. Of course, in his mind that justifies taking another five more.

Weisert: Anyone on the roster not named P.J. Tucker. The optimism surrounding this team in the preseason was born from an assumption that one or more players would step up and improve their game. No one has done that. Tucker is the only player who exceeded expectations (because there were none in the first place.)

Zimmerman: After a start to the season where he proved to be the rim-protecting force he never was, Marcin Gortat has gone back to playing soft basketball. Arguably, he’s hurt his market-value from last season to halfway through this one.

5) Do you think the Suns’ second-half record will be better or worse than the first half? Why?

Schwartz: Worse, because the schedule is absolutely brutal, and the Suns win on the road once a month. Combined with the possibility of a trade and the fact that teams close to the bottom of the standings often struggle a bit more at this juncture, Phoenix would be hard pressed to improve.

Dulberg: I think the Suns’ record might be a few games worse than it was in the first half of the season. Whomever is chosen as the interim head coach would be smart to start that “youth movement” sooner rather than later. And while they aren’t loaded with assets, you’d have to think a notable piece or two will move.

Petersen: Worse in the short term, better in the long run. Whoever gets the “interim” tag as head coach will give more minutes to the younger guys. This will lead to harsh lessons, steep learning curves, and a lot more losses. If the results are one of the young guys panning out and/or the Suns’ best lottery pick since 1987 (No. 2, Armen Gilliam), that’s better than anything they’ve got going right now.

Weisert: Worse. The combination of integrating a new coach and developing young players is not a winning one. Plus, Phoenix’s schedule will be tougher in the second half as only eight of the Suns’ 41 remaining games are against Eastern Conference opponents. This team will likely spend the rest of the season in the West’s cellar.

Zimmerman: I think it’ll be worse, if only because the Suns will give the young guys more minutes. Yet, it’ll be hard for this team to get too much worse – I think.

  • Harry

    I am surprised that all of you except Kevin essentially believe Gentry did an adequate job. Everyone loves to talk about how little talent this team has and this was to be expected but how is this team talent wise any worse than last years Houston team that challenged for the playoffs? Scola and Dragic were clearly the two best players for that team in the second half while it could be argued that they’re not even the best two on the current Suns. Why should the Suns be 13-28? They shouldn’t be and the real problem was fired the other day, as he should have been back on December 31 after the second losing streak.

    What Gentry did wrong first and foremost was change the offense from one that was tried and true to a new one that is largely unworkable in the NBA. Dragic is largely criticized as being a poor PG by many fans. But the problem isn’t Dragic so much as it’s the system. Let me illustrate with an example about a player Suns fans know very well. Steve Nash.

    Remember the offense the Lakers tried to implement at the start of the year under Mike Brown? Well, it was very similar to what Gentry did. It’s essentially a team offense requiring ball and player movement. And how did Nash do under this system? Not so good. His last three years in Phoenix, Nash averaged about 12 assists per 36 minutes. He didn’t play under the Brown system very long so I had to use the preseason, but during the 227 minutes he only averaged 6.7 assists per 36. Now, back under D’Antoni, he’s averaging about 10.5 per 36 minutes. Did Nash become a worse player when he moved to LA? Of course not but it should be abundantly clear systems matter.

    Some will argue that a team system is better but when you have a 24 second clock there often isn’t enough time for the play to develop. And how any coach can think handing the ball off to Gortat three feet behind the 3 point line to initiate a play is good basketball is beyond me. What is the purpose? It takes the ball out of the hands of your best facilitator and puts your big man away from the basket. This system is a disaster. It should be job one for the new coach to tear this thing down.

    But even worse than the offense itself is the effect it has had on Gortat and Dragic. On this team, there are only two players that ever have a chance of making an all-star team (barring some miracle ). Last year both had break out years and one of the biggest questions entering the year was “Just how good are these guys? What do we have here?” Now, half way into the season with this offensive system change, we really don’t know the answer to that question. Just like happened with Nash in LA, this system has hidden the true value of these players. They are the teams best players an that should have never happened.

    Like every on the panel, I want to see the young guys played. But more than that, I want to see the offensive system from last year reinserted and find out just how good Dragic and Gortat really are. Only then can you move forward with a clear vision.

  • Luka


    Dragic is not going to suddenly duplicate any pick n roll chemistry with Gortat. The Suns would’ve been able to close out more ball games if Dragic had been more aggressive offensively. But he’s simply not as good creating space as Nash was.

    I think it’s become evident that Goran is a really decent combo guard in this league, but he’s not a franchise PG. I’d like to see him play more minutes at the 2 and let Marshall and Telfair take turns at the point. Then maybe plug Beasley in at the 4, and let Morris play back-up C.

  • Harry


    He was able to do in Houston so he could do it here. They almost never run the high PNR with Gortat so you couldn’t know what you say. There is nothing “evident”. That’s the problem. And he doesn’t have to be as good as Nash. He merely needs to be as good as he was in Houston, and that’s clearly possible since he’s already done it. He is not a combo guard. He was used by Gentry incorrectly.

  • Harry

    Just read the Suns named Hunter. This organization is beyond stupid. They go from an awful coach to one that’s never coached. Unbelievable! Sarver, please replace Curly and Moe in that thing you call a front office.

  • Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    at any rate, they’re not going to replace gentry with a super coach mid-season. and honestly, what coach is going to come into a situation like this, mid-year, who is used to winning? No way.

    You give a guy like Hunter a shot and see what he’s all about. You do this, also, so the team continues to fall.

    High draft pick(s) and a roster that is able to be gutted and instantly molded into a coach’s desired philosophy is attractive. The Suns are on track to deliver this. big name coaches will give the team a look once the season is over.

  • DBreezy

    I have to agree with Harry. While I could have been somewhat OK with Hunter this summer with a fresh start and a staff of his own around him to help his first coaching experience period, I don’t like the timing of this at all. The players wanted Majerle who has been pimp slapped several times by the organization. He along with Turner are dead men walking who I’m sure will work real hard from here on out. The players who spoke up for Majerle were likely vets who got the message loud and clear. We may not get a fair look at Hunter here. Worst of all to me this move shows Sarver’s faith in Blanks/Babby. After this and listening to the subtext in Gentry’s KTAR interview that hinted this move wasn’t so mutual, my gut says Lance and Lon are still here next season.

  • Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    I also think that a lot of you are still missing the point of the direction this team has taken.

    I see a lot of frustration here in regards to the roster, expectations, and the win / loss record.

    I’m going to take a lot of heat for this but I’ll say it anyway.

    As far as this season goes and the off-season leading up to it, I believe that, for the most part, the owner and front office are on the same page and I like the direction they’ve taken.

    Clearly they said a lot of things leading up to this season in terms of wanting to remain competitive while rebuilding. It was spin. That is always spin, no matter the franchise.

    The goal here was to be bad. I’m guessing the goal here was to be really REALLY bad. I, for one wanted the rebuild so I’m 100% fine with the happenings so far.

    The team landed Dragon, and they took a chance on Beasley. Dragon is fine considering the ‘talent’ around him, and Beas is going to get one last shot with Gentry gone. If he doesn’t work out then you eat it. His contract isn’t a death sentence in the bigger scheme of things.

    To be honest, I’d imagine the FO had to get rid of Gentry. It was obvious that the club played hard for Gentry and remained in a lot of games until they got tired and faded. I think the FO wants no part of being in close games with an opportunity to win. I think they’re looking over the talent heading towards the draft and want to be in great position.

    Any coach coming in right now does not have a good shot at holding onto the job long term, so why is everybody upset that thunder dan got passed up? I’d be shocked if Hunter, or any interim coach retained this position heading into the draft. Dan has a better shot if he waits for the off-season.

    Be bad. Be very very bad. Swing a trade with Gortat and JMZ if you can. Push Morris, Marshal, and Johnson out there all the time. See what they can really do with heavy minutes. I’m all for “being bad with a purpose.”

  • Harry


    Very good point about Blanks/Babby. My worst fear. They’re probably here to stay.

    I’ve had it with this organization (or to paraphrase Dave Dulberg from the recent talk), disorganization. Please trade the players I like so I can be done with this team. Trade Scola, Gortat, Dudley, Dragic, Tucker, Garrett and Marshall. Keep the rest so I can be forever done with this team. As stupid as this FO is, it could happen.

  • Harry


    I’ll make it simple for you. There is no direction. None. Period. Get it? The GOAL isn’t to be bad and stupid. The goal is to grow and improve. That isn’t happening. Apple didn’t hire a guy who didn’t know how to run a Mac when Jobs stepped down. Great organization plan. This disorganization reacts.

  • Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    Still, the root of all of your collective frustrations revolves around being able to improve immediately at the BEGINNING of a rebuild. This is 100% impossible. It can’t be done and it has never been done.

    You have to eat at least half a season just cleansing the franchise of the last dynasty and the diseased remains of that dead memory.

    Comparing the current Suns status to Apple post Steve Jobs is not on point at all and screams tunnel vision.

    Apple wasn’t on the verge of collapse nor was the company about to change philosophical directions in how they market and present their product. The product remained what it was with top-level pieces and another guy simply took the torch.

    Phoenix is currently [TOTALLY] moving away from the SSOL dynasty in full force. This year’s team was put together as an obligation to play the games.

    Gentry wanted no part of it anymore and walked away. Good for him. A rebuild is what it is. Ugly at the start and beautiful as it builds.

    The critical part for Sarver and the FO comes at the draft. They will have good draft position. They cannot afford to pick the wrong guy(s) and they must land a proven coach. Those are priorities 1-50.

    If they can move a few more players before the deadline, that’d help too.

  • Harry


    Where Phoenix moving is into the gutter. Think Sacramento and Charlotte. In your dream word the gutter always yield a new high. Wake up. This isn’t a fairy tale. Great organization do the right thing at any stage in their development. Taking a flyer on some nobody isn’t good management. Reminds me of the Beasley and Johnson signings. Hope and pray it works.

  • Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    I like how all of your replies contained veiled attacks at me. It’s all good though.

    Lets not talk Sacramento. Their plan was to get the franchise out of Sacramento. Almost worked (Los Angeles) – still might work. (Seattle)

    Charlotte have been TERRIBLE in the draft. Still they manged to put together a team good enough to challenge for a 8th seed out east, saw that, and promptly blew it up with the hopes that they land this year’s number 1 pick. Didn’t happen, but at least they’re not happy being 10th or 11th best.

    Also, those two franchises have been pretty low for years and years. This is the first REALLY BAD YEAR in Phoenix and the team hasn’t even had an opportunity to change directions and you’re this upset?

    There was no way that the Suns could do what Boston did and bring in top level talent because, if you look around the league, they’re all signed. So no, you can’t go and buy 3 or 4 insane players and go chase the title. Impossible right now. There is only one other option – the draft.

    I wonder, Harry. Were you one of the guys who supported keeping Nash around after Amare left and / or wanted the Suns to bring him back instead of shipping him to the Lakers?

  • Harry


    I’m not sure why you think I’m attacking you personally. Your ideas are just rather foolish to me. That’s all.

    When I mention Sacramento and Charlotte I am merely referring to the fact that under Babby and Blanks this team has yet to make the playoffs and is clearly moving in the wrong direction. A middle aged team with little young talent that has just hired a coach that has never coached before. Is that the direction you would choose if you were in charge?

    I never said that the Suns should be Boston. I would have been very happy with Kokoshov as coach. At least he has coached before and would bring new blood and ideas to the team. Now, with Hunter, he will be given at least two years to prove his worth. He’ll probably fail and then it’s back to the stating gate. They could have fired Kokoshov at years end if they didn’t like what they had as Portland did last year. Now, the Suns are tied in to an unknown nobody for at least two years. So disgusting.

  • Trevor

    I read that Majerle is thinking of leaving the organization? Great……. now who in the world do we relate to? He is the only thing left of any great days in Suns history. If he was named interim I guarantee more people would have showed up to games to see him coach.

  • DBreezy

    No attack Rich, I just don’t really agree. It’s all good, such is life.

  • Scott

    @Trevor -

    To me, news of Majerle leaving is good news. Since I heard Gentry was out, I’ve been thinking that Majerle should take this opportunity to head out as well. His opportunities are likely to be better elsewhere, now that the Suns have formally adopted the Titanic as their new logo.

    He should give Pat Riley a call and see if even at this late date he can get a minor spot on the Heat’s coaching staff. If he can do that, he has an excellent chance of being the only coach associated with the Suns this season who comes out smelling like a rose.

    (Well, Corey Gaines has a chance of that as well, if the Mercury do well with their top draft pick and win another championship.)

  • Scott

    My take on the above:

    0) Gentry’s departure was not entirely a shock; it’s been signalled for about a year that he was likely to be replaced. It was just a matter of when, and Gentry may have been the one to choose the timing.

    1) The first half of the season was worse than I expected, despite an easy schedule.

    2) Alvin Gentry did a poor job with the Suns in the first half of the season. The Suns lack the talent to stop the top teams, but they also lost to the lowly teams, and that’s because of poor coaching.

    3) What has surprised me most was that everyone was as bad as I thought they were: Blanks, Gentry, Beasley. I’d hoped I was wrong.

    Also, I expected Johnson to get more play time, and that Gentry would have used more small ball lineups for rapid scoring. I thought it was reasonable to use Dragic at SG to close out games, and was slightly surprised it didn’t happen.

    4) Who is who I thought they were? Blanks, Gentry, Beasley were as bad as I feared. But everyone else did pretty much as expected. I even thought Tucker might get a starting spot, as the Suns were so short on defenders, and that’s what happened.

    5) I honestly consider that the 2nd half of the season may feature all losses, setting by far the longest losing streak in Suns history, and possibly drawing a reprimand from the league office. As I see it, the Suns are likely to lose even when they get breaks late in the year when playoff teams decide to rest their stars.

  • john

    I think the expectations for this franchise of some fans after the inevitable fall of SSOL were unreasonable. How would anyone reasonably have prevented the decline of the franchise despite the decline of its two stars that made the team everything it was?

  • Scott

    @Rich -

    FWIW, I’m in the camp that says the Suns will lose and lose big, like you want, but it’s due to lack of basic intelligence and poor performance by the FO.

    IMO, this isn’t part of a brilliant master plan that sees the Suns returning to contention. This is the sort of iceberg that scuttles the ship, and possibly eventually sends the team to a different city.

  • john

    ” This is the sort of iceberg that scuttles the ship, and possibly eventually sends the team to a different city.”

    If the ridiculous attitudes of some of the “fans” on this site are any indication, I actually agree that that’s a possibility. Phoenix fans suck.

  • Harry


    Exactly. While I’m not with you on the losing as I don’t think this team is as talent-less as most, what is happening with this organization now is beyond belief. Rich thinks that all that it takes to get good is to lose. What is happening with the team now is absolutely demoralizing. Events like this can ruin an organization for years. If Hunter turns out to be a mess ( a very real possibility), what does this team do? Blanks and Babby may very well be the worst front office in recent sports history.

  • Scott

    @Harry -

    I don’t think the Suns are talentless. It’s just that it’s plausible to me that they will actually play worse under Hunter, especially as the Suns start giving more time to developing players. And as the losing goes on, morale may drop, and players at the ends of games could play like they expect to lose.

    My prediction could easily be wrong, but I think it is still rational.

    If Hunter turns out to be a spectacularly good coach, and wins over the team, fixes holes in the system, and so forth, then things will probably go better.

    If some of the young players uncork talent that went unrecognized by Gentry, that could help the Suns as well.

    If the Suns make a good trade, things could go better due to that, too.

  • bill.thomas

    Has anyone noticed how relatively well Warrick is performing in Charlotte? Jordan has done well with him, Mullins and Sessions, hasn’t he.

    I know, I know, this is about as relevant to the Suns as Babby’s 7 day forward restaurant planning.

  • Scott

    @bill.thomas -

    I haven’t been watching Charlotte’s games, but looking at the stats, it looks like Warrick isn’t playing as well there as he did here.

    Having said that, IMO Gentry never really used Warrick correctly, which would have been as a scoring SF alongside a defensive SG, like Childress.

  • Big P

    What has honestly always bugged me the most about Sarver is his seeming desire to wipe any trace of Colangelo’s legacy from this team and completely redo the franchise in his image, which has caused that Suns image to tank dramatically around the league. From how he’s reported to have handled the lockout, all the botched drafts, poor signings and bad trades all the way down to purple being relegated to not being a color on the court? So much for the purple palace huh. Next they’ll fire Al McCoy and retire the Gorilla because its cheaper in Sarver’s mind to use distractions and marketing gimmicks instead of putting the best product he could put on the floor to keep his head above water. Whose idea was it to give our 2 best teams (’04-’05 and ’09 -’10 respectively) only 1 year together apeice because he didnt want to shell out to keep them together? Its taken Don Sterling a long time to figure out that youve gotta spend money to make money but do it wisely. Overpaying a big time player is better than grabbing a bunch of lower tier guys and throwing them out there trying to find a gem and overpaying for them anyway. Rookies are a better value than lower tier vets if those rookies were well drafted and developed. Sarver has a chance to make this season worthwhile if he drafts well and can eventually aquire a star player that fits into a developed plan. Untl i see Sarver pull that off, I won’t hold my breath.

  • Ryan

    Gotta agree with Rich for the most part. This isn’t a terrible thing in the long run. Looking back plenty of things could have been done differently the past few years but right now the suns are bad and being bad may be good. When was the last time this franchise was bad enough to have a high lottery pick in a franchise changing draft? You do have to go clear back to 87. Not that this years draft is gonna have that player, but next years does and the suns are gonna be just as bad next year. Two possible lottery picks this year may produce a really good 2nd and 3rd options and luck could land a franchise changer next year. This will be the suns best chance to build through the draft, maybe ever.

    Nothings for sure here but the possibility’s and timing are there that the suns could be real up and comers in three years. Contract wise they’re set up pretty good and should be able to accumulate talent through the draft. I’m optimistic, and am gonna take a wait and see approach.

  • foreveris2long

    Scott I agree with ya in that in my mind, absolutely the shortage of front office intellect has lead to the demise of the franchise. Yeah Harry you may be right this could be the worst front office that I think I have ever seen at least in the NBA. If growing pains were to be anticipated then why keep Gortat and lose Lopez? Why sign Scola? Why not just enter the season with a 25 and under roster where expectations would be low? The recent summer drafts have been a catastrophe.

    I know some are optimistic things will turn around soon but I see no reason for optimism with this front office. I think it is going to be ugly with Marshall likely getting quality minutes in the 2nd half. Mistakes are one thing but it will be real frustrating as we see that Marshall has too many liabilities to ever be considered a promising player.Just another wasted draft pick.

    With bad draft choices, what I think is a horrible front office and a sub par roster, coaching just is not a major concern. Hunter would not have been my choice but we have bigger problems. Watching Earl Clark get 14 points and 16 boards today was just another reminder of how many dumb moves I think this club has made. What a mess.

  • azbballfan

    Interesting point about the offense change

    Yep another Lakers loss but Clark had a great game. again.

    Remember him? we drafted him 14th overall he barely played then we had to sacrifice him to get rid of Turkoglus contract

    I still think this team would be bad even with more pick and roles, just because the Suns lose alot of games, and its not always close

    I dont agree that Gentry was the problem, but he is gone now and Hunter is in his place

    I think Rich has a point to about how the Suns are rebuilding now, which is actually what alot of fans wanted.

    So i guess in a big picture kind of way, everything will be alright in the end.

    Just kidding! i have a few voodoo dolls with me and im planning on working the arms so Babby and Blanks dont accidently draft the wrong guys

    if we have 2 picks this year, my vote is either

    Nerlens Noel and Alex Len (if Morris is gone come the draft)

    or Ben Mclemore and Shabazz Muhammad if Morris and Gortat are still here.

    If Gortat is gone but Morris isnt i would say

    Alex Len and Shabazz since i am assuming Gortat gets traded for a decent prospect at the 2 at the deadline

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