PHOENIX – Alvin Gentry’s final months as the Phoenix Suns head coach weren’t ideal. The end of a long tenure in Phoenix didn’t come smoothly. But as the always upbeat Alvin Gentry does, he’ll forgive and forget.
“I had eight great years here. I was here nine, by the way,” Gentry said Tuesday, chuckling after Doc Rivers urged him out of the Clippers’ locker room to speak with the media. “But no, this is the business that I’ve chosen to be in and obviously it’s a very volatile business and it’s a tough business, but I still have a lot of great friends here. My family still lives here, my kids go to school here.
“Obviously I would have preferred to still be here but that didn’t happen,” he added. “You just move on and you make things work out.”
Forgetting about the past was something Gentry did when he decided to return to the historically incompetent Clippers franchise that he coached for more than two seasons in 2001-03. And the situation of course has changed. Head coach Doc Rivers joined a team so talented enough to earn the Lob City nickname – but in an offseason under Rivers, it has quickly identified as something new.
Rivers knew the team he inherited after leaving the Boston Celtics could run. Heck, he wants his version of the Clippers to run more than they did under former coach Vinny Del Negro.
“And I’m saying the Clippers have to run more than last year,” Rivers joked, “we would’ve liked to run more in Boston – I don’t know if we could have.
“What we want this team to be is a team that runs, but really a team that’s in continuity in motion fulltime, for 24 seconds, 8 seconds, 6 seconds, just movement getting good shots,” he added.
The Clippers lost one element that would’ve helped them run. The trade that sent Eric Bledsoe to the Suns landed Los Angeles veteran shooters J.J. Redick and former Sun Jared Dudley. Rivers credited former colleague Ryan McDonough and his Suns staff with making headway in the Bledsoe trade that the Clippers “didn’t see any way that could happen financially. And (McDonough) basically came up with the equation that it could happen,” Rivers said.
As far as the decision, Rivers said it came down to choosing veteran shooting over youth.
“Really with our players, we didn’t need guys competing against each other,” he said. “We needed guys that just kind of wanted to fall into their roles so we can try and win.”
It wasn’t a complaint about Bledsoe – who Rivers never coached of course – but a compliment to Dudley.
When Los Angeles isn’t able to run, Rivers wants a team that could score anyway. No matter the offense, Rivers knows the biggest issue was the defense, something he wanted his full individual focus on. That’s why he looked for an offensive mind to become his lead assistant.
Gentry’s early offense was something that sold him as a candidate for the gig. So too did his playcalling out of timeouts, Rivers said. Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown was one who went to bat for the jettisoned Suns coach.
“He has a lot of knowledge so we’re using it,” Rivers said of Gentry. “We’re taking all that knowledge and trying to put it in that same pot of gold.”
Gentry, the coach who left Phoenix beaten down over all the losing, has moved on. There’s less pressure on him with an experienced staff and Rivers leading the charge.
“There’s a zillion guys who would’ve liked to have heard from him,” Gentry said of Rivers giving him a fresh start. “We talked a couple of times, and obviously it was something I was very much interested in.
“I love the situation that I’m in right now,” he added. “I think I can learn so much from him.”
Rivers on former Boston assistant and Suns defensive specialist Mike Longabari: “Well, they’re going to get a real short guy. There are real benefits to that. When he stood up last year, I could always see over him and I thought that was good. Other than that, theyr’e getting a great coach. They’re as good as they come, he really is. He works at it … he’s an attention-to-detail guy, and he really understands how important same-thinking is defensively, and not individual thinking. If you can get your team to buy into that, then they’re going to be a defensive team because they’re going to be on the same page.”