At practice today Phoenix Suns head coach Lindsey Hunter stated that he is focused on getting his team ready to play basketball. They are working on tactical elements of the game, adding play wrinkles here and there, as well as getting the teams confidence up.
The morale and energy of the team is vastly important especially during this trying season. But putting together a staff is an immediate necessity.
"That will kind of play itself out," stated Hunter after reminding us he has only slept about four hours in the past 48. "I am concerned about our team and our players. That is my biggest concern, making sure guys are getting everything they can from me."
"I am sure, but I do not know personally," Hunter addressed the potential resentment from the other two not getting the job. "I am sure being a coach and wanting to be a head coach, and then not getting the opportunity; I am sure that hurts. I understand that and I am compassionate about that part of it. I don't know what will come from any of this, but you wish the guys that are not with us the best and the guys that are with us are going to work."
Obviously there will be some resentment towards the front office from the lead assistant and the local legend, both of which have been on an NBA bench here and abroad longer the Hunter has been retired. They each have a claim to the job, but this played out with Hunter as the interim.
Each wanted this opportunity to run the team for 41 games, but did not get it. That leaves the staff shorthanded with Igor Kokoslov, Noel Gillespie, Corey Gaines, and Ralph Sampson.
Hunter has been in communication with the duo gauging their interest in a return to the bench under his supervision, "I am not sure. Our front office probably has more knowledge about it than I do. I talked to them the initial day and I talked to Elston this morning."
As is the staff has some great experience to bring, but are going to be shorthanded, they know that, and are prepared to head into Sacramento as is.
"We are fine right now," says Hunter. "I always like listening to the great coaches of the NFL if someone gets hurt, next man up. that is the way we have to approach it."
One member of the Suns staff has the approach his grandfather taught him to lean on, and that is being loyal.
"Like my grandfather used to say, loyalty is you don't talk loud, you do," stated Kokoslov on staying on board here in Phoenix. "Meaning don't tell me you love me, show me. Loyalty to Alvin when he was here, to the organization as long as I am working for this organization, and that is not going to be a question."
Kokoslov has a connection to both Hunter and Alvin Gentry as a seven year assistant for gentry from the Clippers to the Pistons, and the the Suns. He coached Hunter for three years with the Pistons and won a Championship. Loyalty to the players and the organization supersedes any resentment towards not getting a position of want.
Two coaches may defect after not only losing their their leader, but also losing opportunity. Regardless this is a business and the show will go on without both if necessary, but when will the rest of the show be named? There in lies the ever growing issue with this downward trending franchise.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 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.
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.