Lindsey Hunter's status: In defense of the Suns coach

It’s hard to break from the belief that Lance Blanks brought Lindsey Hunter to the Phoenix Suns to eventually become the coach. And while I often don’t jump on board with the argument of “he’s not the new front office’s guy,” Alvin Gentry probably wasn’t Blanks’ man. Gentry was a coach who could connect with veterans in a way few could. To start from scratch and rebuild a team is another animal, one that didn’t fit Gentry’s personality.

So in comes Hunter, who first appeared in the hallways of U.S. Airways Center during the end of last season, causing reporters such as yours truly to do a double-take.

Is that Lindsey Hunter? Is he working for the Suns now?

Yup. There was no formal announcement of any restaffing to build a player development squad until the summer, when Blanks only mentioned the behind-the-scene guru’s role of pushing the young players that Phoenix had yet to draft. That development core would be led by Hunter, and by the beginning of this year, it included former Arizona big man Sean Rooks and Hall of Famer Ralph Sampson. Rooks has since left for a coaching gig, and Sampson’s role only increased on the atrophied coaching staff.

Whether or not Blanks fills in the holes on that now-purged developmental staff remains to be seen, but it will be quite telling.

And as it is, Hunter is still in charge. He’s not at fault for any favoritism that fans might accuse the front office of holding, either. As such, there’s reason to believe that while many might call for his interim tag to be the end of his time in Phoenix, especially for reasons Ryan Weisert pointed out on Friday, his style does fit well for a rebuilding process.

Respect from those that matter

Goran Dragic was the bright spot this season, and though he was signed this summer because of his very close bond to Gentry, the Suns point guard showed no displeasure toward Hunter in the media or in his play. In fact, Hunter squeezed everything out of Dragic, who after the coaching change only got more aggressive as a scorer.

Dragic battled tooth and nail for Hunter, and the coach always glowed about Dragic fighting despite looking like he’d been in a boxing match. Hunter, a fierce competitor himself, even mentioned that he often needed to protect Dragic from getting caught up in individual battles with the NBA’s best opposing point guards – such was the reason P.J. Tucker was often assigned defensive duties on point guards.

On Dragic’s end, there was always a postgame mention of following Hunter’s pleas to fight hard each night. If there was any disagreement with Hunter, Dragic at the least hid it to the utmost degree.

So if the Suns best player – not to mention Luis Scola and Tucker – is indeed capable of following and working to succeed under Hunter’s coaching, why shouldn’t everyone else be able to do the same?

Is it only wins and losses?

Sure, Hunter joked that wins and losses won’t get him a permanent head coaching gig in Phoenix. His 12-29 record was a game worse than Gentry’s 13-28, but it’s easy to say Hunter’s incremental implementations of his style was indeed ground up – and midseason.

“There are a lot of things I would change that was kind of here all along that, not particularly I was a big fan of,” Hunter said before the final home game, alluding to his very different ways compared to Gentry. “But it’s been that way, so you can’t tear the entire house down when you move in halfway through the year.”

Further pressed on specifics, Hunter only said it was, “just a lot of small things, like the way we dress. How we do certain things in the locker room. Certain things I think need to be uniform, be a certain way.”

That right there is the sign of an approach of starting from the ground up.

Seeing the schematic process through

Where Gentry was a motivator and in-game tactician, Hunter’s role is at the very least similar to Mike Dunlap’s in Charlotte. He’s had to revert to teaching basic basketball principles such as defensive rotations, and he’s even been reduced to teaching effort. His wacky rotations were OK in the sense that, not only did they tank the Suns by disallowing a rhythm, but rightly punished the young players who couldn’t handle any amount of success, as brief as it might’ve been.

Strategically, it was obvious that assistant Igor Kokoskov was primarily in charge of the offense, and it’s of reasonable concern that Phoenix often looked lost – though they were often lost on both ends.

But Phoenix’s offense did improve in the final few weeks of play. And though there was a huge offensive slip after Gentry was let go, the Suns did rebound as they built upon the basics.

Phoenix was scoring 96.3 points per game in December as they got deep into using Gentry’s offense. But in February as Hunter built the offense to his liking, the Suns put in 91.2 points per game. That improved steadily through March (94.6 points per game) and peaked toward the end of the year. Phoenix averaged 101.3 points per game in April and was the 10th-best scoring club in the league during that span.

“We’re much more fluid in our secondary offense,” Hunter said. “Not to have to come down and call plays every single time and be stagnant, and not running through drags every time – we’ve gotten better in that aspect.

“It’s helped Goran a lot, in not having to worry about getting stagnant,” he added. “There a lot more parts to it that we haven’t been able to add.”

No, the improvement didn’t amount to wins. But the easy reason for the similar records under two very different coaches is …

A depleted roster

Like Gentry before him, Hunter simply was at the mercy of the roster the Suns front office gave him. Dragic is the only high-caliber piece of a roster not young but not ultra talented in any respect. And considering Hunter apologetically threw Scola to the dogs by playing him at center at the end of the year in place of the injured Marcin Gortat, it’s a wonder what his record might have been with the Polish center.

Simply put, the situation clouded much evidence of improvement under Hunter. Though it’s fair to argue for a new face in the next head coach, it’s silly to dismiss that this rebuilding season was bound to look bad on anyone involved.

Tags: Lindsey Hunter

  • Scott

    As I noted before, as a coach for the Suns last season Hunter had the impediments of a) lacking a good reputation for winning, b) a poorly-built team that may include a bunch of knuckleheads, and c) he was demanding effort and imposing long practices, following a coach who was more lax, and this after the season was already lost.

    If the Suns were to get Nate McMillan, or a similar coach, it would take care of the first problem of established reputation, but if Blanks composes another rickety roster, a coaching change won’t make the Suns suddenly successful.

    As for the final aspect, I think that operationally McMillan would have a similar approach to what Hunter used. After all, McMillan’s nickname, given by his Portland players, is “Sarge.”

    So if the Suns can’t attract an established coach to a rebuilding team, or don’t wish to do so when they may have another year of purposeful tanking on the horizon, they may choose to go with Hunter again or a coach functionally similar.

  • Azbballfan

    on one hand, Hunter seems like he could get canned

    theres a lot of reasons for that

    but hey if this front office doesnt think they made mistakes by drafting marshall and the morris twins, why would they do that now and cast off hunter after getting rid of majerle, turner, and gentry?

    in a certain kind of way, Hunter has gotta be back, that is unless blanks is kicked to the curb

    looking at Sarvers track record though, my money says Hunter stays and Blanks get an extension

  • foreveris2long

    It is a no brainer, the team sucks,extend or make permanent everyone to show solidarity on this sunken ship. Extend Blanks and remove interim tag for Blanks. I told them to trade Gortat last summer when his numbers were impressive, try and sign Rolo, do not draft Marshall and draft Henson instead and they did not listen. Therefore maybe they won’t listen this time and fire Hunter and Blanks like they should be.

  • Ty-Sun

    Odds are that Hunter will be back next season. The Suns have virtually no chance of bringing in a big name coach and bringing in anyone else, even someone with more coaching experience, might probably be seen as either a lateral move or too little, too late. The FO may go through the motions and actually interview candidates for the job but Hunter will be one and ultimately be “chosen” as the “best fit” for the job.

  • Scott

    I thought the plan all along was to use Hunter as an interim coach and then install Mike Malone this summer.

    At least that was the rumor.

  • DBreezy

    I think the trick will be finding effective assistants for Lindsey once they retain him. I can’t imagine that Hunter would even get a deal as crummy as the one Gentry got when his interim tag was removed. Lindsey needs at least one mentor type coach imo, like Del Harris was for Avery Johnson. One wonders how interested people would be in coming to such a bad team with a head coach on such a short leash. It’s not like you’re going to do anything as an assistant to get noticed around the league on a team this bad.

  • foreveris2long

    I suspect the next indictment handed to the Suns is when Wesley Johnson goes elsewhere despite the Suns interest. I could be wrong but I think he will try his luck on a team with better direction.

  • Scott

    @forever -

    Maybe Johnson will go elsewhere if someone has some better looking stats on him, or if someone is looking to gamble. He’s still got a PER lower than that of the Morris twins.

    I’d be willing to gamble on giving him a short term contract with the Suns, but that’s because the Suns are awful.

  • Scott

    For example, on the Suns WJ looks like one of their most potent offensive threats from 3. But here’s what he’s shooting from 3:

    4/17 – 33%
    4/15 – 20%
    4/13 – 25%
    4/10 – 37.5%
    4/09 – 0%
    4/07 – 16.7%
    4/05 – 0% (and that’s in 30 min of play)
    4/03 – 50%

    For a 29.3% hit rate in April.

    March, his best 3 pt shooting month, was 34.7%. So he’s not exactly a sharpshooter. (Kyle Korver was 48.5% from 3 in April, and his worst month was March at 41.6%.)

    The main thing for the Suns is that WJ is willing to be a volume shooter and defend, so – with his length – he’s a notch above Shannon Brown.

    I don’t think the Suns will or should get into a bidding war on him.

  • Scott

    Markieff, BTW, was 65% from 3 on low volume in April.

  • Scott

    Let me clarify … as I guess I’ve sent a mixed message.

    IMO, the Suns should offer WJ a max of $3.5m for each of two years, with the 2nd year being team option, or possibly a three year deal on the same outline. Basically, it would be the same contract that was offered to Shannon Brown.

    If somebody out there wants to give WJ a more alluring deal (say, $2-4m to be on a contending team backed by Mark Cuban), then I wouldn’t sweeten the offer to keep WJ.

    I like him, and I think he has potential particularly at SF, but if somebody makes him a better deal, let him go.

  • Forever is2long

    Scott, while I think he could get $3.5m-$5m/yr, I think he is going elsewhere even if the Suns offer a similar deal. This team is so unstable, I am just not optimistic he wants to be a part of this for maybe 2 more years and I really cannot blame him. So I guess my point isn’t about the money but whether he would accept the same or even less to be elsewhere which is what I meant by the indictment.

    I could be way off here but I think the longer the Suns wait to decide on Hunter, the more it looks like they do not want him. This team needs some stabilization but it needs to be the right pieces. I just do not know how they justify bringing Hunter back with his record and the need for him to defer elsewhere for offense. There has to be college coaches that could do a better job. I doubt any well known coach would want this job unless they get personnel decision making authority. I also cannot believe they will trust an important draft like this one to Blanks.

    The longer there is no permanent head coach the shakier this team looks.

  • Forever is2long

    Re: Stats, If the Suns had drafted Henson instead of Marshall, he averaged over the past 10 games in 21 minutes a game, 9 pts and 8.9 boards with 1.8 blks a game. Anthony Davis in about 28 minutes a night averaged 13 pts and 8.2 boards a game. Lopez who signed essentially three one year deals in New Orleans, in the past 5 games averaged 14.6 points and 9.2 rebounds a game.

    So while some say the Suns had a good rebuilding year(I am not one of them), they easily could have had Henson and Lopez (just turned 25 this month) to go with Dragic, which would have been 3 pretty decent pieces and we would still be in the lottery but there would be more promise.

  • Ty-Sun

    I doubt better teams would want to pay Johnson much to be a role player off the bench. Yes, he started for the Suns under Hunter but I doubt his stats have wowed any enough that they will offer him a big payday. I think that the most likely reason for him to leave the Suns is if he’s willing to take LESS money to play on a better team with a smaller role.

    Regardless, he won’t be high on anyone’s FA “want list” and whether he stays or goes may come down to who the Suns take in the draft, which players the Suns trade away/trade for, what offers he gets and what he thinks of the Suns’ franchise future.

  • Scott

    @forever -

    Well, as said before, if the Suns had bothered to nail down the PG position by keeping Dragic or through trade or free agency (Beno Udrih through trade, Jeremy Lin though free agency), then they wouldn’t have felt as pressured to pick up a PG in last year’s draft.

    They pointlessly – heh – screwed around for years on the PG spot.

  • Ty-Sun

    Trading Lopez wasn’t a mistake. Not trading Gortat would be a mistake. Neither of them are centers you can build an NBA team around. And it is DONE and in the past. Same with drafting Marshall instead of Henson. Done. No going back. No changing the past.

    We can go round and round and round again talking about what the Suns should have done in the past but it’s pretty meaningless outside the discussion of whether the FO and Sarver have screwed up the team or not. That is pretty obvious. Hopefully they have learned something from their past mistakes. I’m not optimistic but rehashing the past is still pointless.

  • foreveris2long

    It may be pointless in your eyes Ty but that is personal to you. Allowing this front office with their history to rebuild the franchise is a serious mistake. Most front office executives are fired when the past is “rehashed” so the same type of mistakes are not repeated. The past is what gets employees fired everyday in this country. Like it or not the past is critical to the present and most importantly the future.

    Gortat should have been traded last summer. Why do you think you have to have a center to build a team around? Can’t a really good team have a young serviceable center, while two or three other positions have potential all-stars(see OKC). It would be great to have an all-star center but I doubt it is essential.

  • foreveris2long

    Scott, I suspect the three blind mice thought they had to draft a point guard in the lottery since Nash was leaving even if his talent was marginal at best. However a good GM with a rotten team would have taken someone with the most upside, irrespective of his position. The worst that could have happened if they did not draft a point guard is Telfair would have been the starter which means we would still have been one of the 5 worst teams in the league. So in my opinion the thought process in drafting by this front office seems substantially flawed.

  • Scott

    @forever -

    That’s pretty much what I was talking about. When Blanks decided to move Nash, the Suns had already missed reasonable opportunities to add a quality 3rd PG to the team (Nash, Dragic, plus PG x). Blanks then traded Dragic away, adding Zabian and Brooks (neither of which was of suitable quality), and then moved on to Telfair and Price.

    This is a series of very bad moves. If you’re wanting to construct a history for a job review, I think the situation revolving around the PG spot is enough to call for a GM change.

    So after screwing around for years with the PG spot, weakening it to ridiculous levels, Blanks decides to drop Nash, leaving the team with only Telfair, who is not really even suited to be a backup PG. Blanks then picks Marshall in the draft to be his “point guard of the future.”

    Now I think the pick of Marshall was rational considering the team’s needs. However, the team did not have to be in the position where they needed to draft a PG. That necessity was created by what I see as incompetency on the GM’s part.

    Ironically, after the Suns draft Marshall they bid low on Dragic and Dragic decides to return, even though Houston was willing to pay him more money. Think of how bad the Suns would have been if Dragic did the logical thing and stayed with Houston, where they really liked him.

    The only reason the Suns won as many games as they did this year was because they accidentally got Dragic back, and they managed to win Scola in the amnesty auction.

    If you want an accurate picture of what Blanks intended to build, subtract those two players from the scenario.

    In other words, Blanks was building an apocalyptically bad team. Possibly one of those 3 or 7 win type teams.

  • foreveris2long

    Scott, exactly my point regarding Blanks. When you assess what he has done since his hire, how can he not be fired? Somebody has to review his history with the Suns before entrusting this year’s draft to him.

  • Ty-Sun

    @forever – Lol, I’m talking in the context of this message board/blog. Yes the FO needs to be held accountable for their past mistakes but do you really think that whatever anyone says here has any real impact in that regard? Do you think that Sarver, Blanks or Babby reads our comments? Constantly restating the obvious HERE is meaningless.

    And I NEVER said an NBA team HAS to have a center to build around, I just said that neither Gortat or Lopez are centers that you can build a team around. Neither of them are/were essential to the Suns’ future. The Suns found themselves in the position of resigning Lopez or trading Gortat or keeping both and cutting into their cap space. Gortat outplayed Lopez during Lopez’s last season with the Suns.

    Overall, Gortat and Lopez actually had virtually equal stats this season except that Gortat averaged almost 3 rebound more per game (Lopez – 11.3 ppg/5.6 rpg/1.6 bpg — Gortat – 11.1 ppg/8.5 rpg/1.6 bpg).

    The biggest mistake the Suns could make now is to offer Gortat a contract extension and not trade him. Yes his value would have been higher if they had traded him at the end of last season but I don’t think it’s been hurt too much. Last year Gortat put up very good numbers on a marginal team. This year he put up lesser numbers on a terrible team. The point is that he’s not and never has been “the man”. Other teams with intelligent GM’s already know this. Gortat plays up – or down – to the level of his teammates. Overall, the Suns are probably better off in the long run without Gortat or Lopez.

    As YOU said, “Can’t a really good team have a young serviceable center, while two or three other positions have potential all-stars”. All I can ask you is who are the two or three potential all-stars on the Suns team that would justify keeping “a young serviceable center”?

  • foreveris2long

    Ty I never said the Suns had 2 or 3 allstars, you are assuming facts not in evidence. Perhaps they have one future allstar in Dragic with the rest hopefully coming from a draft in the next few years. It is too early to tell if Henson will be an allstar as he isn’t an everyday starter yet but a lot of people like his upside. So my point is had they kept Lopez they would have a serviceable young center for a cheaper payday than Gortat and hopefully find a star or two in the next 3 drafts. Now without Gortat or Lopez they also have to find a center along with every thing else. However it appears you are fine that neither one will likely be here next season. That is your choice.

    Ty most of the comments and the articles on this board are about the past. I do not know if Babby, Blanks or Sarver read this board or a proxy of theirs reads it but I would not summarily dismiss the possibility. I have seen blogs argued by attorneys for CEOs of major corporations in litigation so no it would not surprise me if someone on their behalf periodically looked. With that said I do not care if they look or not, I simply say what I think needs to be said.

  • john

    I would like Hunter to be gone. I don’t think he did enough to prove he deserves the job (like making defense a priority, for one).

    My money would be on Hunter staying. I’d give it somewhere around 75% odds at the moment. The only way I think Hunter goes is if the Suns can land a big name coach like McMillan. And I think they’ll try to.

  • Forever is2long

    John, I too hope he is gone. At a minimum I hope Blanks is gone. I do think they are exploring available coaching candidates which is why they have not committed to Hunter yet.

  • DBreezy

    It’s still early, but I think it’s notable that the currently available job with the most interest from established coaches seems to be Cleveland. Obviously it’s mostly because of Kyrie, although Gilbert’s fire and willingness to spend probably doesn’t hurt in candidates minds. Also the path to at least the conference finals in the East still looks to be much easier in the East than the West.

    I’m perfectly fine with Hunter being dismissed, I just don’t want to see them launch head first into another disaster because they didn’t read the market first. It was tough enough for the Suns to find a new coach and GM/PBO when they were a far superior team to what they are now. I don’t want them to fire Hunter(or Blanks for that matter) and then spend all summer striking out on potential replacements before settling on new versions of Hunter and Blanks complete with sell job.

  • john

    Nate McMillan for coach.

    Phil Jackson for GM.

    Problem solved.

  • Jon

    I disagree with you all, I think we should keep Gortat because he is a good center, we are realistically not going to get anyone nearly as good for a few years if we trade him. His production was not that good this last season so he can be relatively cheep for a talented big man. We should try to re-sign him right now, if he says flat out that he does not want to stay they yes we should trade him.

    I guess it comes down to how you would like to re-build, absolute scorched earth, fire sale, which im sorry never works unless you get lucky and draft a Lebron, Kobe, or Durant, and even then it will take a couple years…just look at the bobcats, they never hold on to their good players and are always really bad.

    I would rather us try to improve next year, yeah we might not make the playoffs but we can make progress, plus keeping good players around is good for fans, the organization, and player moral in the locker room. Seriously lets not become the bobcats.

    I like Johnson but he is not worth getting in a bidding war over. I would trade Scola, beasley, try to trade the moris twins but they could make a decent back up SF-PF combo, I would try to trade Dudley because as much as I love him there is nothing special about him.

    Stock pile draft picks, sign the best free agents that we can, get a coach that is defensive and hustle oriented (NOT HUNTER) and do the best we can next year, then next year look at the roster, get rid of who we dont need, and who is not working out, get the best players possible and repeat. More than anything we need a star, there is not one in this draft lets be honest, and in the shape the suns are in no good FA will come here. Its dark days suns fans, dark days in deed.

  • DBreezy

    Lance is done, let the next stage of drama begin!

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