Alvin Gentry Named Interim Head Coach by the Suns

by Jeramie McPeek
VP, Digital
By Stefan Swiat,
Posted: Feb. 16, 2009

After spending a week in the national spotlight with 2009 NBA All-Star last week, Phoenix remained the epicenter of the basketball world when it dismissed Terry Porter as its head coach Sunday. The club announced that longtime Suns assistant, Alvin Gentry, will be stepping in to take over for Porter.

A 29-year coaching veteran, Gentry is the one remaining holdover from when Mike D’Antoni served as the franchise’s head coach. The Suns’ new skipper is in his fifth season as a member of the Suns' coaching staff.

Kerr went to Porter’s house to inform him that the organization was going to let him go last night, as well as to apologize for the media frenzy that he had to endure all weekend. The Suns GM felt that when he hired Porter that they would have a long-term partnership, but the transition proved more difficult than Kerr imagined.

“Obviously this is a very tough day,” Kerr said wistfully. “I hired Terry because I believe in him; he’s got a ton of integrity, dignity and class. He’s got a great work ethic. I hired him because I felt he was the best man for this job.

"I knew this team was going to have a difficult transition ahead of it, but frankly, I probably underestimated the difficulty of that transition. I think you have to assess your team constantly and you have to see whether you are going forward, and in the last month it became apparent to me that this is not working. You have to move forward in the NBA.”

By Kerr’s own admission, the team has underachieved this season despite possessing a boatload of talent on its roster. After 51 games, the club sits in ninth place in the Western Conference with a 28-23 record.

Now enter Gentry, who will become an interim head coach for the third time in his career. It’s a sensitive situation for Gentry, having replaced someone he considers a friend.

“It’s a real difficult thing to do,” Gentry said. “Everyone wants to be a head coach in this league, but I think when it happens that way, it’s kind of a bittersweet thing.

“I don’t think I’ve been around anyone that worked harder than Terry,” he said. “I think it would’ve been very difficult for anybody to step in here that was from the outside.”

The main task at hand for Gentry will be building the team’s consistency. The Suns have not been able to rattle off one of their patented long winning streaks as in seasons past, boasting only four separate three-game winning streaks this season.

Kerr, who still believes that the Suns can have a successful season, believes that this coaching change can give his struggling team a jolt of energy.

“Alvin is clearly the guy to give us the best chance for success going forward and he knows this team better than anybody,” Kerr stated. “He’s been here for the last four and a half seasons he knows our personnel and he knows what makes us tick.

“I’m confident that we can have a successful remainder of our season and that Alvin will do a terrific job.”

Gentry claims that he’s only going to make subtle adjustments to the team on both ends of the floor. The main difference will be returning to what he described as a “break-neck pace” on the offensive end.

The design is open up the lanes more for Steve Nash, while simultaneously getting Shaquille O’Neal and Amar’e Stoudemire involved in the attack. He cited Phoenix’s 107-97 road victory over Detroit as the blueprint for success that he’d like to follow.

It was a game where Nash handed out 21 assists, O’Neal had 20 points and 10 rebounds and the Suns totaled 31 points while still outscoring the Pistons by 40 in the paint. It was a clear indication of balance between running and setting up in the half-court that has been elusive at times this season.

“We established our inside game, he (Shaq) got us into the bonus early and we were able to get out and run,” Gentry noted. “Those are the type of things that I think we have to go back to. We have to play the way we have to play to be successful.”

That was the type of offensive balance that Kerr has been seeking all season, despite being aware of how difficult that challenge may be.

“I knew it was ambitious but we haven’t won a championship here in 41 years and we have our sights set high,” Kerr said. “If I’m guilty of setting the sights to high, then so be it.”

However, the team has proven that it can work. Gentry pointed out that the Suns closed out the 2007-08 season with a 15-3 record, despite all of the doubters believing that Shaq could be incorporated into a running system.

“We averaged 112 points a game with him in our lineup,” he said. “If he is playing out on the wing and passing through guys’ legs, we should be able to run with him.”

Nash also agreed with that assessment.

“Other than Shaquille, we have a group of guys that played that way at their most successful points,” the two-time MVP said. “Shaquille proved at the end of last year that he was a great addition to that team. We think Alvin is great and that he will do a terrific job.”

One of the areas Gentry seemed adamant about focusing on during the press conference and the media huddle after practice was the need to convincingly beat sub-.500 teams like Suns teams of the past. He also concurs with Kerr’s desire to improve the team defensively.

When a reporter asked Kerr how long Gentry will remain in the lead chair, Gentry said that he would answer that.

“I signed a multi-week contract,” he joked. “I’ve been a interim guy three times so I can use that line.”

The former head coach of the Pistons, Heat and Clippers will serve as the head coach for the remainder of season. His future as the head coach of the club will be re-evaluated at that time.

According to Nash, the focus of Gentry’s first practice Monday was to increase their conditioning some more, focus on getting into their offensive sets as rapidly as possible and to try to take advantage of their quick-strike opportunities. Knowing the strengths a weakness of this team intimately, the handing of the reign over to Gentry may just be what the team needs to snap out of its funk.

This must all seem surreal to forward Grant Hill, who saw Gentry take over as head coach when they were both in Detroit. But that may not be such a bad thing.

“As Alvin has reminded me many times, I had my best years playing for him,” he joked. “Considering the circumstances, considering what we’ve been through, he’s probably the perfect person to take over at this time.”

The Suns will get their first test under Gentry tomorrow against the Clippers at 7 p.m.

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