Lance_blanks

Lance Blanks was hired to be the General Manager of the Phoenix Suns in August of 2010, after free agency had already defined the team for the upcoming season. His second offseason was scuttled by the lockout. His third offseason was really his first chance to make his stamp on the team.

Yet this next four months will truly define Lance Blanks' tenure with the Suns, because it's the first time he's put his own coach into position to lead his own roster of players.

When hired by the Suns in 2010, the GM position was a level higher than Blanks had ever worked. He spent years as an Assistant GM in Cleveland under Danny Ferry and Chris Grant after lesser roles for the Spurs. So bringing him in 2010 without the pressure to make over the team in his first month was a blessing.

All that was left to do was fill out the back end of the roster - which he did with the likes of Garrett Siler, Zabian Dowdell and Earl Barron. None of those guys developed into legitimate NBA players, but very few at the back end of a roster can make that claim anyway.

Blanks never gained full acceptance by the holdovers from the prior regime - head coach Alvin Gentry, the assistant coaches including Dan Majerle, and the top leaders on the court like Steve Nash. Whispers and rumblings out of the locker room indicated as such.

Two years later, that's still the case. Alvin Gentry's statement after leaving the Suns mentioned only Robert Sarver as someone he respected. Dan Majerle's comments yesterday mentioned he would definitely stay with the Suns if Elston Turner or he had been offered the interim job, but was leaning against it when Hunter was tabbed.

Gone are the days when fan-favorite holdovers are given the reins to rekindle flagging excitement. Paul Westphal. Danny Ainge. Frank Johnson. On a franchise with only 15 head coaches in 45 years, three of them were beloved but underqualified replacements taking over a bad team. Surely, Dan Majerle expected to be next in line.

But Lon Babby and Lance Blanks, and by extension Robert Sarver who hired them, have no interest in blindly keeping with Suns tradition of having fan favorites coach the team just for the sake of it.

That doesn't mean they won't take the risk to hire an underqualified candidate. It just means they won't dip into Suns lore to do it.

Hiring under-qualified candidates to coach an NBA team is not uncommon.

This hiring of Lindsey Hunter is very similar to the Bulls' hiring of another former Sun Vinny Del Negro in 2008. Del Negro had only a couple years in the Suns organization as an assistant to the GM (lesser than Assistant GM) and broadcaster before being hired to run the Bulls.

It's also similar to Golden State's hiring of Mark Jackson last year. Jackson had only the broadcast booth on his resume before taking over GS last year, and now that team is fighting for home-court advantage in the playoffs.

Another example is Jacque Vaughan in Orlando this season. Yet another is Scott Skiles. He took over PAOK (Euro team) midseason straight from the active roster in 1997, less than a year out of the NBA. The next year, he was an assistant for the Suns, taking over the HC duties 2 years later.

Larry Bird took over the Pacers without coaching experience. Magic Johnson took over the Lakers for half a season without any experience either.

The list goes on. And the only complete coaching failure among those examples, even in the near term, is Magic Johnson. I am sure there are other no-experience-HC failures I can't recall at this time, but Magic is the only one that jumps out at me.

A couple of years ago, New Orleans forced their GM (Jeff Bowers) to coach his failing roster after firing his head coach for losing the team and underachieving with the roster. Wouldn't that have been interesting in Phoenix...

Hiring an HC with no experience is not uncommon in the NBA. And many times, those hirings have worked out to be very good coaches.

The Suns' PR problem is that (a) they didn't hire a Suns fan fave and (b) they are bucking a tradition very long in the Valley's tooth and (c) they are doing it while ushering out the old guard.

Folks, I have taken over teams before in the business arena (not sporting arena). Inheriting a management staff is not often a fun proposition because you are always the outsider. In their eyes, you will never know what they know and often they can't even fathom why you were hired over their crony in the first place.

Yet, the reason you were hired is because they weren't getting the job done. To improve the bottom line, you can't just stay with status quo. Your job is to shake things up, hold people accountable and improve the bottom line. Not just make friends and worship your underlings for their long service.

Sometimes, you win those folks over with small tweaks that make all the difference. You make them part of the solution, convince them that this and that change is in their best interest and "kapow" they love you.

But other times, you have to clean house to get the respect you deserve and the results you want. Incumbent staffs can have a sabotaging effect on change, intentional or not, no matter how competent the new boss is.

Either way, you as the new boss will ultimately he held accountable for the bottom line. It matters not, in the long run, how painful the transition was as long as the end result is a better product.

It the end, if the Suns come out better than they were in September 2010 (not the WCF team, but the only that Blanks and Babby inherited), then all this pain will be worth it.

But there's only four months left on the clock to turn it around.

At the moment, the Suns are worse than ever - or at least the last 25 years. It's no wonder that they decided, after years of trying to win the incumbents over while getting worse, that it was time to clean house and try one more shock to the system.

Despite anything that happened before January 20, 2013, despite all this upheaval and losing that got us to this place and this time, Babby and Blanks will ultimately be judged on what transpires over this next four months.

Will Lindsey Hunter be a smash hit?

Will any young players develop into a brighter future than their present?

Will the Suns FO make any moves at the trade deadline to go younger, with more potential and assets?

If the Suns don't recover some kind of good will and hope for the future in these next four months, even more change might be on the horizon.

Dave Dulberg and I discuss the decision for the Phoenix Suns to part ways with Alvin Gentry and what lies ahead, including what the team can do this season to set itself up for success moving...

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Former Phoenix Suns head coach Alvin Gentry isn’t a heavy tweeter, but he went to Twitter after he and the team parted ways, first to thank everyone for their support and then again on Sunday...

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Change is bittersweet at times and there is an aura of the Phoenix Suns having a clean slate for the next 41 games. Not that the 13-28 mark didn't happen, but they are moving in another direction with energy and excitement reinstalled into the team.

Some players have vented out on Twitter their reactions to the coaching change from Alvin Gentry to Lindsey Hunter, but some of them also spoke about it:

Goran Dragic

On Gentry:

"It is always tough when you lose a coach, but in the end you have to look at it as a business. I wish all the best to Alvin. He did a great job with me, we had a great relationship, but we all know it is a business and you have to look forward. We want to win games. That is why we are here."

On Hunter:

"I expect a lot from him. He already won a championship with Detroit (2004) and was playing in the same position as me so I can learn a lot from him, me and Kendall (Marshall). I hope he can bring toughness to this team, more aggressiveness, especially outside and try to pressure the ball more. We will see."

Marcin Gortat

On Gentry:

"Well it wasn't a good feeling, because obviously we have been together for three years and it is definitely not nice to see someone go and to lose his job, but it was tough because nobody expected it. We didn't find out until later that day. I personally found out from TV, turned it on and found out our coach was fired so it was tough. I was with him for three years and I am grateful for everything he did for me, for the opportunities, for the confidence, and for the knowledge. I just wish him all the best to him and his family."

On Hunter:

"The first practice was, you know, good and intense. I think we worked on a few different things that we have to work on, obviously it was just one practice and we came back after two days off so everybody was energized. We will have to see what happens over the next few days. That is a huge challenge for him (Hunter) and a huge opportunity as a coach. The results will show whether or not he is good enough to be on that spot or not. he is going to have our 100% support, we are going to try to do better, and we have to continue to work on it."

Kendall Marshall

On Hunter:

"I am excited, but obviously this year has not gone the way that we hoped it would go. I think we took a great step today with our first practice. Everybody competed hard and there was a lot of positivity in the gym. I think we are making the right changes on and off the court to better ourselves."

Others have taken to Twitter to say good-bye to their former coach:

I have grown so much playing under @AlvinGentry. I wish him and his family the best. He's a great coach and a better man. @Channing_Frye

By others I mean just Channing Frye, then he was re-tweeted by Jared Dudley, but that was the public goodbyes from the players.

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It appears that the upheaval on the coaching staff won't end with Alvin Gentry being replaced with Lindsey Hunter.

Two other assistant coaches, Elston Turner and Dan Majerle, were given the bad news on their candidacy to take over the reins just before practice started and were excused from the proceedings.

"Lindsey offered everyone the chance to stay," Lance Blanks said a couple of times when asked about Turner and Majerle. "[Hunter] will be meeting with the staff this afternoon and figuring things out."

Blanks recused himself from speaking on assistant coaches, leaving that to Hunter.

"I assume that whoever we hire as the interim would make the selections on who would be on his staff," Lon Babby said the other day. Babby did not speak today, referring reporters to Blanks and Hunter.

Elston Turner, who was brought in a year ago to lead the defensive effort (23rd in efficiency last season, 26th this year), was seen walking around the facility and meeting with staffers while Hunter's first practice was ongoing. Majerle left the building immediately after getting the news. While it's possible those guys will come around and stay on the staff, it's also likely that's the last we've seen of them this season.

Joining Hunter on the court for practice were Igor Kokoskov (also denied the head coaching job this morning) and Noel Gillespie. Press room gossip has Corey Gaines joining the staff full time if Majerle and/or Turner leave.

"We plan to have a veteran on the bench or in the second row to help out," Blanks said, hinting that things may not have gone well with the veteran assistants without naming them specifically.

As far as player-development coaches go, it was reported earlier this morning that Sean Rooks got a coaching job overseas and will leave the team immediately. That leaves only Ralph Sampson left from Hunter's PD staff to work with players outside of practice.

The other day, Lon Babby mentioned Sampson specifically to help continue making Marcin Gortat a better player so maybe he will join the coaching staff as well? Who knows.

The new staff may just be full of guys with little coaching experience outside Igor Kokoskov.

"He was the right guy to give us a jolt," Blanks said when asked what Hunter brought over the other candidates. "There were certainly other qualified and safe candidates.

"We felt Lindsey would give us the type of leadership we needed. We can work with him, as we go through this process with the team and the organization."

Yet Hunter has never even participated on a staff that ran a team, schemed the gameplan and organized practices. Blanks explained that "to be a point guard in this league, on some level you are helping the coach carry out his orders."

Blanks hired Hunter initially to do some scouting, then to lead a newly formed player development staff.

"We just built our relationship in the last couple of years," Blanks said. "I have been very transparent about his role with him. He was on my staff. He challenged our staff, but at no time did I think he would be the head coach here."

Asked why it took a couple of days to name a guy that many predicted would get the job once Alvin Gentry left, Lance Blanks gave an interesting answer for conspiracy theorists to chew on.

"That was a surprising shock to us all," he said. "I am confident saying no one knew. I just walked into it.

"But we did not want to panic. Once things were done and it was clear that we needed a new coach for the balance of the season, then we began the process. At that point, we didn't even know who might want to do it."

There has been some speculation that Alvin Gentry's separation was not a foregone conclusion, and Blanks' answer certainly supports that.

However, it's no secret that Blanks appreciates the ability to work closely with the next head coach. He talks of a partnership, and certainly that's the goal of any GM and head coach. Lance inherited Alvin Gentry and the team's leadership on the playing court and coaching staff.

Now is Blanks' time to put his own stamp on the team.

Lindsey Hunter prides himself as a no-nonsense guy. His answers were short and to the point.

Asked about Blanks' "jolt" comment, Hunter expounded in a matter-of-fact way, "I think its from personality. I grew up in a no-nonsense house. I'm just that way."

Asked what makes him a good coach, he replied with candor (and a chuckle): "We don't know if I'm a good coach yet, right? Since high school I have always felt like a coach on the floor. Being a basketball junkie my entire life has prepared me. Lon and Lance said 'you have a PhD in basketball'. It never gets old to me."

Asked how to walk the line of playing young guys and winning at the same time: "I just walk, don't look at the line. I'll play the guys that play hard, and I can live with that."

He is under no impression that the season will be a cakewalk.

"All of this has been a whirlwind," he said about taking over with 41 games left and no contract past the end of the season. "Just jump in with both feet and hands, and get dirty. There are different things that come about that you have to persevere through."

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