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Yes, the professional basketball team here in Phoenix does play actual basketball, here and there. This week was a bit of an unconventional break with only two games in nine days giving the team time to make some major decisions. And they took that time.

Game Recaps

vs. Oklahoma City Thunder - L (102-90)
vs. Milwaukee Bucks - L (98-94)

It was nearly a full 48 hours between Phoenix Suns head coaches during this small break, unheard of when you consider this is still the regular season where practices, meetings, scouting, and more happen regardless of the game schedule. Last week the team lost both of their games by a combined 16 points. Each game was decided in large part due to the other team having play-makers that were comfortable down the stretch.

That does not change with a new coach.

Instead this could easily be more of the same as the next 30 days the team faces nine teams with winning records, 10 games on the road, and 14 games total leaving very little room for error. New head coach Lindsey Hunter couldn't of asked for a tougher schedule to start out his tenure with the team, but he will certainly be challenged early on.

The defense is where Hunter would like to see improvement as a former waterbug defender that knows a thing or two about great defenses. Excluding the New Orleans Hornets, all 14 of the opponents are in the Top 15 in points per game and can light it up.

Since the team does not have an isolation scorer that can take over down the stretch like most teams shifting the focus of the defense to take those players out of rhythm makes the most sense.

In only five of the teams losses this season they were beaten by a "role player" that traditionally does not dominate a game on the offensive end of the floor. That means there were 23 teams (games) that were decided by the other team simply having a closer that was unstoppable.

That defensive mindset could mean leaning heavily on players like P.J. Tucker, Sebastian Telfair, and Jermaine O'Neal, but those are not developmental talents aside from Tucker. The team wants to be more aggressive on the defensive end as point guard Goran Dragic told me, "I hope he can bring more toughness to this team. More toughness especially pressuring the ball." Look for more of that with this new regime.

Head Coach Lindsey Hunter on his teams identity
Once we establish an identity then you will start to see things happen. Of course I want to be a "hard nose defensive minded" team, that is what I want and that is what we are going to work towards being. I know that is kind of different than any other culture that has been here in the past, but things change all the time and like I told the team when you change, it is hard. It is like a kid growing and his knees are hurting all the time. It's growing pains and hopefully we can go through that and grow; and see some results.

Key Stats

19.63 Points Per Game

That is the average points scored against the Suns by an opposing teams leading scorer. Albeit that is not terrible, but what it shows is that consistently the team gives up nearly a fifth of their defensive points to one player. I am not sure how that ranks against other teams in the NBA, but teams know who to go to in order to score on the Suns, but can the they find a way to stop them?

The Highs

At this point in the season the positive notes are going to come from the teams development and the "jolts" of energy that are going to come with change. Teams respond well to a coach being fired, this was a mutual separation, but regardless the players should react well. Heading to Sacramento next in a winnable game against a common opponent that is circling the drain at the bottom of the Western Conference standings can only be described as welcome opponent. Especially after this past week.

The Lows

See: Gentry, Alvin mutual departure

Practice Report

Check that out here and this serves as another one with some new quotes and takes from practice on 01/21/2013.

Apparently it was a practice worth watching as Suns Owner Robert Sarver, President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby, and General Manager Lance Blanks were all in the building observing. Babby and Blanks are consistent regulars, but Sarver was in to see his new head man.

Grades

A look at three different players on the Suns for the week forming a good, bad, and a surprise either way each week.

C- for Michael Beasley: Another up-and-down week with two games, one double-double (14 points 11 rebounds) and another forgettable 5 point 3 rebound effort.
C- for Marcin Gortat: See above, Gortat was great against the Thunder putting up a double-double, but the Bucks front court dominated the game and Gortat as he had one of his lesser statistical performances of the season.
D- for Markieff Morris: Against two quality front lines Morris didn't play as much as he has in the past, but in tight games former head coach Alvin Gentry was playing strategy to win the game. Morris was not playing winning basketball last week.

    Player of the Week:

    Shannon Brown - 20.5 PPG 4.0 RPG 2.5 APG 51.5 FG%

    If the Suns can get more players on board with 20+ point efforts the offense may not stall as much consistently, but Brown seems to be one of only a few players interested in scoring the ball. He scored 20+ in both games this past week, but neither resulted in a win. Over the course of the season Luis Scola and Jared Dudley have proven they can score on that level, but none of the three seem to do it together or with consistency.

    After all, they are giving up basically a 20 point scorer a night (19.63) on average every game.

    "You know, guys do what they do," said Brown after the Milwaukee loss. "I stick to what I do and guys stick to what they do, but it is a combination of things. We just have to become better as a basketball team. We have to be able to execute on the offensive end and we have to be able to play through adversity. If they make a run we have to push through that and make our own run. We have to make stops and we just have to lock in a little bit better. As far as the scoring that will come."

    Previewing the Week Ahead:

    Wednesday, January 23rd @ Sacramento Kings (16-25)

    Thursday, January 24th vs. Los Angeles Clippers (32-9)

    Saturday, January 26th @ San Antonio Spurs (32-11)

    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...

    [[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]
    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...

    [[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]
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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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