Lindsey Hunter shows little concern over future with Suns

PHOENIX — Nearly three months after being named the Phoenix Suns interim head coach, Lindsey Hunter looked thoroughly beaten Thursday. Gone was the self-described fighter. Gone was the wide-eyed smile. Gone was the passionate coach speak that had become a common fixture during his pre and post-game press conferences.

For the first time during his tenure in Phoenix, Hunter’s body language spoke of a man who was worn down in the face of repeated defeat. His tone was rather withdrawn, his face noticeably sullen at times and his desire to remain as the team’s head coach appeared to be apathetic at best.

“I don’t feel any urgency at all,” Hunter said regarding when he hopes his future with the Suns will be decided. “I trust they know what they’re doing upstairs, and they will make a decision when they need to.”

The former 17-year NBA veteran might not have a sense of whether the Suns will make a quick decision or not, but given Thursday’s activity around the league, the coaching search — whether internally or externally — is already underway. With three teams parting ways with their coaches (Cleveland’s Byron Scott, Detroit’s Lawrence Frank and Philadelphia’s Doug Collins) less than 24 hours after the final day of the regular season, the clock has started ticking for Lon Babby and Co., as well.

Hunter, however, said he hasn’t’ had a single discussion with management about his future and that his focus in the coming weeks will be less on a decision and more on taking some time away from the office.

“I’m not even really pressed to think about (the decision),” said Hunter. “I’ll sit back and reflect, think about things. Of course, I’ll constantly be putting together things in my thoughts and on paper, but it’ll just be the typical basketball summer.”

It certainly wasn’t the typical winter or spring for the two-time NBA champion. Hunter took over for Alvin Gentry on January 20 and in the process inherited a team with a 13-28 record and a roster full of players that didn’t exactly fit his defensive-minded philosophy.

There were notable wins over the Hawks, Grizzlies, Lakers (twice), Rockets (twice) and Spurs, but there were also 20 double-digit losses, many of which came on nights when the team collectively looked disinterested with the notion of competition.

In all, Hunter finished with 12-29 record. Knowing that his predecessor was fired with slightly better numbers (13-28), the first-year coach admitted he might be out of a job if results drive the organization’s choice.

When asked if the decision should be made based on more than wins and losses, Hunter momentarily broke out in a smile.

“It better be a lot of it,” said Hunter. “If it’s about wins and losses, I don’t have a chance.”

Accurate as that might be, if management has a desire to keep some of its current veteran players happy, Hunter might not have much of a chance anyways.’s Ken Berger wrote the following on Hunter’s future in the Valley:

The Suns conducted their exit interviews a week ago, and a person familiar with the process told that interim coach Lindsey Hunter did not fare well in his player evaluations. The Suns went 12-29 under Hunter — one game worse than the first half of the season under Alvin Gentry — and there’s a feeling among some players that the team regressed. “Players don’t want him back,” one league source said. President Lon Babby received a two-year extension earlier this month. GM Lance Blanks, who was instrumental in appointing Hunter as interim coach, has one year left on his contract.

Although there is probably plenty of validity to Berger’s report, outside of closed doors, players spoke somewhat highly of the job Hunter did.

“When you have a veteran team, it’s fine because guys know how to handle the business,” Jared Dudley said. “We had a lot of guys that weren’t use to winning. When you give them a lot of freedom it can backfire, and Lindsey tried to get guys to stick with (the system).”

Goran Dragic added that after the mid-season coaching change, Hunter brought a level of accountability and was relentless in his effort to try and instill it.

“He’s a tough coach,” Dragic said. “We practiced every day hard for two hours or one hour and 45 minutes. Before, we had a lot of days off, but when Lindsey took over we didn’t have that. He was really strict, fining players if they didn’t do their jobs. I think that was a good sign.

“We are a young team, so we need that. Maybe in the past we have so many veteran players like Steve (Nash) and Grant (Hill). They’re professionals and know what they have to do. But with young players, you have to be on them all the time.”

Phoenix was 8-11 under Hunter until Marcin Gortat went down with a season-ending Lisfranc injury on March 6, but the Suns center admitted that if there was some pent up anger towards Hunter, it likely stemmed from that disconnect between an old-school coach and new-school players.

“There was a situation during a game where players were saying they were confused, and the only thing coach was saying was, ‘I was asking you to play hard,’” Gortat said. “Some people said they were confused, and I don’t understand what’s confusing about playing hard.”

The Polish Hammer went on to say that he doesn’t think the problem is Hunter so much as it’s the kind of players that filled the Suns’ roster in 2012-13.

“We are just weak,” said Gortat. “We are mentally weak, basically. I would say we need more talent. We need more athletic, energetic guys and people that want to compete and fight.”

Whether Hunter lives to fight another day in purple and orange remains to be seen, but the main takeaway from Thursday is that he’ll be just fine whether he’s employed by the organization or not.

“Whatever happens, happens guys,” said Hunter. “I’m not above or beneath anything.”

After getting a taste of life as an NBA head coach, Hunter has clearly changed from the eager player development coach who first took the clipboard 89 days ago. As he left his post-season interview in the bowels of the US Airways Center, Hunter did so with a hint of resignation, yet contentment in his voice.

“Maybe I will see you again, maybe I won’t.”

The waiting game has officially begun.

  • DBreezy

    “If I tried to act like a smartass and tried to pretend like I know everything and I understand everything, I’d get slapped in the head automatically,” he said. “I grew up in a great system, and these young guys — there’s a lot of young guys — they just think they’re better than they really are.”

    I actually think this was the most crushing quote from the Gortat interview Dave. The rest was stuff Scola, Duds, and Hunter have said in various ways all along. Probably going to be a lot of new faces in school next year.

  • Ty-Sun

    After the Titanic struck the iceberg changing Captains wouldn’t have saved the ship. I’m not saying that the Suns should keep Hunter next year but I don’t blame him for not bettering Gentry’s record for the 1st half of the season… especially with Gortat missing so many games.

  • Dennis

    Hunter migrated to the “defensive head coach” position with Igor running the offense. So the question is how did the Suns improve defensively? Who improved?

  • Scott

    I don’t hate Hunter, in fact I think he did several good things (like using Scola as starting center, playing Gortat and O’Neal on the floor together, etc.), but he probably should not get another head coach contract from the Suns.

    Who on the team has mental toughness? Dragic, Scola, Dudley … that’s about it. O’Neal wasn’t really fully committed, so his toughness came and went. Gortat was fairly moody and inconsistent with his focus.

    Brown, Beasley, and the other guys … their mental toughness flickered in the wind. I’m pretty sure they don’t see it that way themselves, but it seems evident from external observation. I think, though, that toward the end of the season – when it was too late to matter – we started to see some consistent fire from Wes Johnson and Markieff Morris.

    Some here may snicker, but I believe mental toughness was actually part of what the Suns sought in drafting Markieff and Marshall. I don’t think they quite hit the mark; or at least, even if these guys seemed mature and level-headed for college, they’ve still got a ways to go to be mentally tough in the NBA.

    Whatever coach the Suns get, he’s got to be able to instill mental toughness and effort. That’s why I keep suggesting Nate McMillan … because it seemed to me he did that in Portland, and perhaps to some degree in Seattle before that.

    As for Gentry, I think there were issues with mental toughness under him that did not exist before. I think the group he inherited from D’Antoni / Porter was mentally tough, but as the roster changed – with the exceptions of Grant Hill and Jason Richardson – it began to weaken, till finally we got the mentally fragile group the Suns fielded this season.

    And it’s not just a matter of youth. Kevin McHale has been dealing with youth the last two years in Houston (this year in particular) and his teams have done well.

  • Azbballfan

    With a team like the Suns, we need a coach and a front office that is on the same page reguarding what direction the franchise should be going

    We cant have the coach trying to develop players and then the front office going “Oh, you didnt win enough games”

    once you get that taken care of, this identity crisis of are we trying to win or develop a team. you get a coach can command respect and at the same time be approachable

    Given Hunters total lack of coaching experience, Majerle and Turners departure, and the overall disaster of the season, this team had no leg to stand on

    when the front office and head coach dont have credibility, nothing positive can come of that

    credit the players who played hard every night despite that, because thats what the players should be doing anyway

    I hope the Suns opt for a total rebuild instead of a hurried retooling, cause that would only lead to a marginally better season next year, and actually prolong the whole rebuild process

  • Beasley’s No.1 fan

    Hunter is an awful coach and needs to be fired ASAP.

    If the Suns choose to keep him then let’s all get ready for another awful season.

  • foreveris2long

    Gortat said it best when he indicted the front office by uttering ” We are just weak” That said it all because they were weak physically and mentally. Just very little talent.

    Although Hunter had signature wins, I am not a fan of him. While he probably has a good work ethic to make them play hard at least at times, a good coach should offer more, like leadership (the guys will run through a closed door for him) and being a really good x and o guy. I doubt a name guy wants to work for the 3 blind mice so we need a promising young guy begging for a chance. I will never know why Majerle was not given a chance. The Suns want another Mark Jackson but I am not convinced Hunter is as smart as Mark is setting up offensive plays.

    The cool thing is we can be patient because the Suns are not winning anything for awhile.

  • bill.thomas

    Baby: We are 1 or 2 players away from being a solid playoff team ! I’ll have another pastrami and rye.

  • bill.thomas

    Hold the Mayo-Naise !

  • Scott

    Aside from the slowly developing draft evaluation stuff, the next big date is May 21, when the lottery determines where the Suns take their top pick.

    So … more than a month to go on that …

    (Looks away, hands idle, thinks about whistling but just blows air.)

    FWIW, DX has at least two players much higher than I think they should go: Mason Plumlee and Kelly Olynyk. They’re at 12 and 13, and I just can’t see it. Maybe Olynyk at #21, and Plumlee sometime after #20 … in the 2nd round.

    And #25 Mam Jaiteh … if he goes, it should surely be in the 2nd round.

    Thoughts on that?

  • bill.thomas

    @Scott: I share your love of slow, overrated, plant-footed underdeveloped white boys. Maybe we should develop a meet-up group around this.

    Corollary: If Brent Musberger, Valvano, Phelps or any similar suspects is excited over a prospect, he should be presumptively 2nd round.

  • bill.thomas

    Or better yet, D-League.

  • bill.thomas

    I would take Amundson at 800K/year rather than Olynk or however that F-upped name is spelled–that is if NOLA wants to give him up. He (Olynyk) is near worthless and will never have much success in the NBA unless he has a DNA transplant from Kobe, Olajuwan or some such.

  • bill.thomas

    if NOLA wants to give Amundson up–they prolly wont, as his stats are at least as good as the Morris Bros at half the price. BTW, didn’t he have a career here before ???????????

  • bill.thomas

    Bring on Kelly !!!!! A surefire franchise savior. kinda the modern day Adam Morrison.

    And lets trade for Jimmer to boot. And use the 2nd pick on Plumlee.

  • bill.thomas

    @foreveris2long: Hunter had signature wins? No, Dragic and Scola, ex HOU, had them.

  • Scott

    Well, that didn’t take long.

    OJ Mayo has announced he’s going to skip on his player option and be a free agent next season.

  • Beasley’s No.1 fan

    I hope the Suns stay away from OJ Mayo, he is a terrible player who disappears in big games.

    No mayo please!

  • Scott

    @Beasley’s No.1 fan -

    And yet the Suns gave Beasley a $6m contract. Shouldn’t they do the same with Mayo?

    Isn’t Mayo more consistent on both offense and defense, with better handling, passing, FG%, FT% and 3 pt shooting than Beasley?

    I’m not sure why the Suns should sign Beasley but not Mayo.