Posted Feb 16 2009 5:12PM
PHOENIX (AP) -- The Phoenix Suns fired coach Terry Porter on Monday, just four months into his first season with the club and the sputtering team barely in playoff contention. Assistant Alvin Gentry was appointed interim coach.
Phoenix (28-23) lost five of eight going into the All-Star break and trails Utah by one game for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
Gentry promised a return to the fast-paced style that best utilizes the team's talent, particularly the skills of playmaker Steve Nash.
"We are who we are and I think we have to go back to trying to establish a breakneck pace like we've had in the past," Gentry said at a news conference announcing his promotion.
The Suns are the eighth team to fire a coach this season, meaning more than one-quarter of the league's coaches are gone at the All-Star break.
This marks the second time Porter has been fired as an NBA coach. He was let go by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2005 after two seasons.
"I hired Terry because I believed in him. He's got a ton of integrity and dignity and class, and he's got a great work ethic," general manager Steve Kerr said. "I hired him because I believed he was the best man for the job."
But Kerr said he probably underestimated the difficulty of the transition from Mike D'Antoni's loose, high-speed style of play.
"I think we still can make this a very successful season," Kerr said. "This was a move I think we had to make in order to give our team the best chance for success."
Porter was in the first year of a three-year deal worth about $6 million to replace Mike D'Antoni, who left after four highly successful seasons to coach the New York Knicks.
D'Antoni is a coach who lets his players run and shoot, and maybe play defense once in a while. It was Kerr's insistence on emphasizing defense that led, in large part, to D'Antoni's departure. Porter wanted a defense-oriented team in the tough mold of the Detroit Pistons.
It was a bad fit.
Kerr said Gentry "has been an integral part of our successes the previous four years and knows our talent as well as anyone."
Extremely popular with Suns players, Gentry has been a coach in the NBA for 20 years, including interim head coaching stints with Miami and Detroit. He was coach of the Los Angeles Clippers from 2000 to 2003.
"I think Alvin is a great players' coach," Suns forward/center Amare Stoudemire said after Sunday's All-Star game in Phoenix. "He gets along with his players well. Of course, he'll have a great game plan from a basketball standpoint. I think it will be somewhat up-tempo."
Asked if the coaching change was needed, Stoudemire said, "Only time can tell."
"I think Terry Porter definitely put a lot of hard work in here to try to get us on the right track," he said, "and I'm pretty sure Alvin's going to do the same."
Gentry was the only holdover from D'Antoni's staff in Phoenix. His hiring as assistant coach in 2004 coincided with the arrival of Steve Nash and the subsequent ultra up-tempo offense that propelled the Suns to 54 wins or more in each of the past four seasons.
The decision to replace Porter came in a series of meetings between owner Robert Sarver and Kerr reviewing the entire basketball operation. The two also are considering trading Stoudemire in a move designed to clear salary-cap space, although Kerr indicated an interest in keeping the team together for a run at this season.
Porter, who played in the NBA for 17 seasons, was an assistant with the Pistons when he was hired by the Suns. The intention was for him to bring the Pistons' defense-oriented style with him. That plan was jettisoned after it became apparent the Suns were not suited to such tactics.
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