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.

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