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Fran Blinebury

Former Toronto interim coach Jay Triano has put his stamp on the Raptors since taking the helm full time.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Former interim coaches make mark with own gameplan

Posted Jan 8 2010 9:47AM

You could call them the firemen, the ones who answer the alarm when the building is in flames and try to save what they can before it all turns to rubble. Or you might think of them as EMTs, arriving on the scene with a defibrillator and a plan for pumping life into the body when the pulse is gone.

In the NBA, they're the coaches who are given jobs aboard sinking ships, handed a bucket and asked to bail everyone out.

Eight different teams made coaching changes during the course of the last season and four of those in-season replacements were given the full-time reins. They are all now enjoying various degrees of success after coming into the job with different backgrounds and philosophies.

Lionel Hollins, Memphis Grizzlies

It became Hollins' third time at the helm of the Grizzlies when he replaced Marc Iavaroni on Jan. 25 last season. He had previously served two stints as the interim boss in 1999-2000 and 2004-05.

"Coming into the middle of last season, what I tried to do right away was convince these guys that it was about their future," said Hollins. "The players bought into it. A lot of them were tired of losing and wanted some direction. I made practices harder and longer and emphasized a work ethic.

"We kept a mantra that wins and losses didn't matter. We just wanted to keep getting better. By the end of last season, that started to happen."

After struggling to a 1-8 start to the season, the Grizzlies have battled their way back to the .500 mark (17-17) and Hollins was named Western Conference Coach of the Month for December after guiding the NBA's youngest team to a 9-4 record.

Scott Brooks, Oklahoma City Thunder

Nobody ever gets these jobs when things are going right, but there were few situations more wrong than when Brooks replaced P.J. Carlesimo on Nov. 22. The Thunder had a miserable 1-12 record to start the season and had lost back-to-back home games by to the L.A.Clippers and New Orleans by 20 and 25 points, respectively.

"Yeah," Brooks said chuckling, "a lot of us don't get to pick our spots. When I first came into the job, I just wanted to try to keep things simple, not try to do too much or be thinking about too much. The idea in that situation is to just try to do the basic parts of the game very well and try to build on that."

Brooks stepped right in, changed the starting lineup, shortened the rotation, drastically altered the practice routine and has tried to be resolutely positive on the face of so many defeats. He has, for the most part, put the season into the youthful hands of third-year pros Kevin Durant (21) and Jeff Green (23) and second-year guard Russell Westbrook (21).

"I think Scott is intense, but he wants what's best for us every time," Durant said. "As a former player, he knows what it's like for us to go through this."

"Scott has been all about being positive," Green said. "Everything he does is trying to make us better. He's intense about trying to get us on the right track, and our intensity has picked up. But what he's doing most is putting us in a better position to win."

After a steady improvement to 22-47 to close out last season, Brooks has the second-youngest team in the league at 19-16 and in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.

Alvin Gentry, Phoenix Suns

When Gentry took over on Suns bench on Feb. 16 to replace Terry Porter, his plan could be summed with an old movie title -- Back To The Future.

"It wasn't a case of me trying to come into the team and install an entirely new philosophy or a way of playing that they'd never experienced before," Gentry said. "Since I'd been on the staff with Mike D'Antoni and we had played our fast tempo running game, it was a case of getting back to what I thought we could do best."

Though the Suns were 28-23 when the change was made, they were coming off consecutive 17-point losses to Cleveland and Philadelphia and it was clear that the emphasis on an offense with Shaquille O'Neal as the facilitator wasn't working. Aftter dealing Shaq to the Cavaliers in the offseason, signing floor-spacing shooter Channing Frye and turning Steve Nash loose again with the offense, Phoenix zoomed out to a 14-3 start. Even though they've come back to earth a bit, the Suns are 23-13, in the upper-half of the Western Conference playoff race and looking like the Suns of old again.

Jay Triano, Toronto Raptors

Triano became the seventh coach in the franchise's 15 years when he replaced Sam Mitchell on Dec. 3 with Toronto holding an 8-9 record after a 39-point blowout to Denver. Though they finished the season 33-49, he guided the Raptors to a 9-4 mark in the season's final 13 games. He also was the coach as former No. 1 draft pick Andrea Bargnani elevated his game, finishing with career bests in points, rebounds, blocks, field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage.

"All the concepts from last year when I first came in are different," Triano said. "There were different players and a different team. We've had to learn, figure everybody out. What are our strengths? What are guys gonna do? Where are they gonna cut? We had to get everybody to buy in and try to be on the same page at defensive end as well.

"Last year the first six weeks I had the job last year, I don't think we had a day to practice except day before the game for six weeks. That made it tough."

After a rocky start that had the Raptors at 11-17 on Dec. 16, they have now won seven of their last eight and have got themselves back to .500 (18-18).

"Hopefully, we have turned a corner," said Triano. "I don't know if the top four (in the Eastern Conference) is attainable, but we're going for the top five."

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here.

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