Hunter Charged With Giving Suns a Jolt
When Lindsey Hunter went to bed last night, he was the head of player development with the Suns. When he woke up this morning, he was the franchise’s new head coach.
After the organization and former Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry parted ways Friday morning, Phoenix’s front office spent the next 48 hours talking with the players and interviewing internal candidates, which were comprised of Hunter and Suns assistant coaches Elston Turner and Igor Kokoskov. On Sunday morning, about an hour before practice, Hunter received word that the job was his.
“The organization needed a jolt,” Suns General Manager Lance Blanks said. “We needed something that would shock the systems of us and the players. And the risk trumps safety in this business, and we felt this was the right person to take a risk on.”
A 17-year NBA veteran as a player, Hunter retired following the 2009-10 season after a successful career with the Pistons, Bucks, Lakers, Raptors and Bulls. During his career, Hunter won two NBA Championships, one with Lakers during the 2000-01 season and one with the Pistons during the 2003-04 season.
Coming exactly at the season’s midpoint, Hunter will be charged with leading the team for the remaining 41 games of the season. After the conclusion of the season, the Suns front office will re-open the search for the organization’s next head coach.
The former NBA point guard first joined the Suns’ scouting department in 2012 before being asked to serve as coordinator of the organization’s newly-formed player development department. It’s a meteoric rise for the 42-year-old Hunter, who will be challenged with the task of improving a Suns team with a 13-28 record.
“He was the right guy to give us a jolt,” Blanks added. “Certainly there were other qualified and safe candidates you could really make a case for. We felt that Lindsey would give us the type of leadership that we wanted.
“We felt like the things that we heard from the players in terms of accountability and things that they felt they needed, he fit well with that. And we felt like we could partner with him.”
As a player, Hunter’s teams made 12 playoff appearances in 17 seasons overall. Now, with his first opportunity as an NBA coach, he will see if he can carry over that success to the bench.
A self-described “basketball junkie,” Hunter called this morning a “whirlwind,” receiving word that he’d be taking over as head coach with less than an hour to prepare for practice. After conducting practice, Hunter was introduced to the media for the first time as the team's head coach.
“When I got here, Lon and Lance were like, ‘You have a Ph.D. in basketball,’” Hunter said. “And that’s how I look at it. My entire life has been surrounded by this game.”
Through his time in the NBA, Hunter has played for such recognized coaches as Larry Brown, Doug Collins and Phil Jackson. He said he will take a little from all of his past coaches to create his coaching philosophy and style.
But according to him, his first order of business will be focusing on defense.
“I’m a defensive guy, so that’s the avenue that we’re going to try to create,” the former Jackson St. star said. “(I want us) to be a tough, nasty, defensive-minded team.
“And then we’ll go from there. (But I’m also) not going to try to build Rome in a day.”
Over the summer, Hunter was a finalist for the head coaching job of the Orlando Magic, and according to Blanks, received interest to serve as a “top assistant” by another Western Conference club. Now, he will spend the rest of his Sunday completing his coaching staff and creating a game plan for the rest of the season.
As to whether Hunter’s focus will be on winning games or developing young talent like rookie point guard Kendall Marshall - who he constantly worked with after practice - the new Suns head coach said it will be a mixed bag.
“I want to see our young guys play,” Hunter said. “We still want to win games though. I think (Marshall) was a little sad when this happened because he called me and said, ‘No more workouts?’”
While Marshall and other young players such as P.J. Tucker probably won’t receive the same amount of individual attention they’ve grown accustomed to getting from Hunter, they are definitely excited to play for him.
“He has the quality of really knowing how to play,” Tucker said. “He’s been on championship teams.
“He’s been around great players, good teams and knows how it works. For me, I think it’s having guys that have been on good teams that really know what it takes to win.”
With the young players, Hunter said that he’ll need to balance constructively criticizing them, while also encouraging their growth. He also said that nothing will be guaranteed for the younger players and that playing time will be determined by their ability to execute his game plan.
“It’s just a matter of being tough on the guys and still putting my arm around them and letting them know, ‘It’s ok, I’m in it with you,’” he said.
So as Hunter tries to get his feet back underneath him after such a dramatic change in his life, there’s one thing he plans on not losing sight of in his new role.
“The guys are the biggest emphasis right now,” Hunter said. “I’m trying to keep them together and get them to bond as a family and play hard out here.”
Hunter will get that opportunity in Sacramento against the Kings on Wednesday.
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