Is teaching effort simply the Suns' euphemism for change?

PHOENIX – The remaining portion of the Phoenix Suns’ 2012-13 season dictates two things clearly. It will dictate development to young players like Kendall Marshall, who the team drafted in the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft. The final eight games will also determine Phoenix’s place in this upcoming draft.

But future player personnel moves are overshadowed by those two obvious points of emphasis.

Lindsey Hunter waxes poetic about teaching effort and building a culture, and there’s a good bet he truly believes in what he’s teaching. Yet, anything the Suns’ interim head coach might say about teaching his younger players about playing with 100 percent effort, 100 percent of the time might as well be euphemism.

“I think a lot of times they don’t understand, you know, what that means a lot of times,” Hunter said before the Suns’ loss to the Indiana Pacers on Saturday. “We have to show them, we have to teach them. We have a make sure this is what we mean by maximum effort. This is what we mean by not giving up on a play.

“A lot of guys have never heard that before or never seen or never had a coach tell them, ‘Just because you hit a screen doesn’t mean the play’s over.’”

It’s obvious that Hunter is correct. Where he goes out of his way to praise Goran Dragic, Luis Scola and P.J. Tucker and their consistent fight, Hunter said that he can’t always have all of the players tagged as effort guys on the floor at the same time. Such is the reason for the peaks and valleys in the Suns’ performances of late.

Yet, it’s becoming more evident that the upcoming games will not be so much about building a culture.

Dragic, Scola, Tucker, and veterans like Jared Dudley and Jermaine O’Neal can create that culture – they’ve been in the locker room all year, after all. So the key moving forward is evaluating which players aren’t going to fit well with the mentioned names.

Hunter says he’s seen flashes of the Suns taking on his bulldog identity that made him as a player.

“At times, at times,” the Suns interim coach said. “I think I’m a little chippier. I think they understand how I am.”

As hard as he tries, teaching effort is a questionable practice.

“It’s got to be in you – point blank, period,” Tucker said earlier this month. “You can’t teach somebody that. Go out there. Pride. Go out there to represent yourself, organization, team, what we’ve been fighting all year for.”

Hunter knows it’s all semantics about future player personnel decisions. He’s mentioned that he’s needed to press players to fight for their jobs. Effort has been a constant issue for Phoenix, maybe even moreso than the NBA’s worse teams in Charlotte and Orlando, who are undermanned to even greater degrees.

“You can’t teach effort. You can never do that,” Dudley said. “That’s through player personnel. That’s for (Hunter) to decide. If he ever feels someone’s not giving effort, that’s where substitution comes.

“We’re at a point now of developing guys,” Dudley added before more bluntly tacking on, “working on who’s going to be here next year.”

Hunter on his future

The Suns’ season, as can be expected, has been a wild one within the locker room. No matter the belief among some that Hunter wasn’t the right choice to follow in Alvin Gentry’s footsteps, it’s been a whirlwind for the interim coach.

Hunter said he’d love to take the job full-time, but that’s far from his focus at present.

“Every day brings something different so you’re always working,” Hunter said when I asked him if he’s had time to reflect on his growth as a coach. “I haven’t had a chance really to just sit back and take everything in. I will. But right now, it’s all about working and me improving as a coach and trying to get our guys to improve also.

“If I’m blessed enough to get the job I carry on,” he added. “If not, I move on.”

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