For those wondering about the future of interim head coach Lindsey Hunter, here's the latest from recently-extended PBO Lon Babby to arizonasports.com on his weekly radio show last Wednesday.
"I would say we will make a quick decision," Babby said. "We can't afford to have an elongated process. It might be immediately or in short order. But we can't let it linger on, and I don't see why we would let it linger on."
Babby did give the smallest hint on the direction he was leaning.
"I think you have to look at the results, because it's a results business," Babby said. "But I think you have to put the results in context, where we are in the season, how difficult it is to persevere, which we haven't done by any stretch of the imagination."
Hunter, 12-28 as coach after an 8-13 start, has given a lot more minutes to younger players since taking over than his predecessor Alvin Gentry did. Gentry amassed a nearly identical 13-28 record in his half-season, playing the best possible rotation of talent and having a healthy Marcin Gortat and Jermaine O'Neal.
While Gentry had the team playing passable offense, only 5 of his 13 wins came against winning teams (one was against Utah, who might now miss the playoffs by a single game).
Hunter, on the other hand, has presided over record-setting blowouts and losing streaks, yet has tallied 8 of his 13 wins against playoff-bound teams (2 were over the Lakers, who may just end up in the lottery thanks to those losses to the Suns).
Gentry was a player, media and fan favorite whose team was frustrated from day one this season.
Hunter is a task-driven coach who cares less about being anyone's favorite than he does about demanding consistent effort from his young guys or they won't see the floor.
"There came a point in the season we realized whatever aspirations we made for the season, weren't going to be met." Lon Babby said of the midseason change of mindset from winning to developing players. "The losing is still painful, but we're putting the accent on a different note. And the note now is the future and development."
The key question here is whether Lindsey Hunter has developed any players during his stint, and whether he has set any new standards that lay the foundation for consistency and positive results next season.
To many of us, Lindsey Hunter was not ready to be an NBA head coach this season. He'd never coached before on any level in any capacity, and none of his assistants been a head coach at the NBA level either.
Gorey Gaines, a part-time assistant, has coached the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury for years, while Igor Kokoskov has coached the Georgian team during summers. Both have been successful, though in different settings. But that's it. It was a coaching staff of rookies bent on playing (yet expecting maturity from) the youngest guys. Not a recipe for success.
None of the players are clamoring for Hunter's return, though none are asking for his ouster either.
When asked what needs to change and what needs to stay the same, the players focus on the missing talent on the team and the commitment to excellence of the young guys. Point guard Goran Dragic, swingman Jared Dudley and forward Luis Scola are all skeptical that the current roster could dramatically improve next season after a summer of work. They are who they are as a unit, and change needs to happen. Including some of the younger, less-focused players.
When pressed about Hunter, the players have spoken of the increased accountability and commitment being demanded by the staff as a good and necessary thing for a young team.
Hunter has clashed with young players who he perceives as not committing themselves enough or showing enough consistency. Marcus Morris and Michael Beasley, in particular, have lost playing time and earned sharp, public rebukes from the coach. Even front office favorite Kendall Marshall has seen fewer minutes than many expected, often getting pulled for lack of aggressiveness and production. To be fair, each has garnered praise from Hunter when they played well.
"No one has earned their spot," Hunter is fond of saying, referring to old and young alike.
Hunter has also lessened the roles of Suns veterans who'd gotten used to big minutes last year and in the first half of this season (albeit on a 13-28 team). After re-signing with the Suns last summer, Shannon Brown's minutes have all but disappeared in favor of Wesley Johnson. Jared Dudley lost minutes and his starting job to Johnson, while P.J. Tucker has often gotten the "vet" minutes ahead of Dudley when Hunter smells a win coming on. Before an injury ended his season, Marcin Gortat's minutes dwindled under Hunter as well, though that was strictly in favor of an older Jermaine O'Neal who was much more consistent and productive at the time. Luis Scola's minutes had declined during Hunter's initial 8-13 start, but when Gortat and O'Neal went down Scola was the first player Hunter turned to.
On the plus side, some young players have improved, albeit marginally. Markieff Morris has earned consistent minutes and become a better NBA player in the last two months of the season. Wesley Johnson has stepped from the shadows to play a smart, consistent role at shooting guard, and Kendall Marshall has gradually asserted himself at backup point guard.
None are future all-stars, but they don't have all-star talent either. Heck, none of them are surefire NBA starters. But they did improve. You can't make a diamond out of a rock, no matter how much you cut and polish it.
Also on the plus side, Hunter has gotten this team some big wins. Two wins each over the Lakers and Rockets at home. And a big win over San Antonio, when they were playing really well, IN San Antonio. Biggies over the Clippers, and Memphis and Atlanta as well.
The other day, I wrote that Babby has an opportunity to make big changes in his organization, that it has to start with Blanks and to let the chips fall where they may with Hunter.
That's still my stance on the matter. While Hunter just may turn out to be a good NBA coach, the guy who hired him could very well be out of a job in a few days. And new GMs want to bring in their own coach.
But if Lance Blanks stays on, and there's no evidence to the contrary, I am a bit surprised how tight-lipped the front office has been over the past week. Lon Babby, a fixture in the tunnels and at the games and always available to the media, has politely asked to wait on further impromptu interviews until after a decision has been made. Babby has also decided not to give an end-of-season "State of the Team" press conference yet.
Generally scheduled for the day after the season, all the players' exit interviews will have already taken place before tonight's tipoff. Tomorrow's locker cleanout is just that. Nothing more. No team meetings on the final day, no public addresses. No State of the Team press conferences.
It's always calmest before the storm, they say. Then again, it's always calm when there's no storm coming either.
No matter what, we will find out soon enough.
Babby sees no reason to let it linger on.
From a Phoenix Suns fan perspective, everything happened the way it needed to happen on Monday night. I know some Suns fans are worried about a win, but the Suns can do no worse than 4th overall and were unlikely to get the 3rd overall lotto seeding thanks to Cleveland's epic tanking efforts.
By beating Houston last night, the Suns forced Houston to play as hard as possible against LA on Wednesday to keep their #7 playoff seeding intact (to face hobbled San Antonio). If they lose to LA, they drop to the #8 seed to face OKC. No one wants that.
Now a hungry Houston team is the Suns' best chance to knock the Lakers out of the playoffs, and start their summer vacation on the same day as the Suns.
If the Lakers beat Houston to make the playoffs, the Suns will get the #30 pick (via the Miami Heat). But if the Lakers MISS the playoffs by losing to Houston (while the Jazz win), the Suns will get the #14 pick outright.
Basically, Suns fans should cheer for the Clippers to win tonight and tomorrow (over Portland, Sacramento), the Jazz to win (over Memphis) and the Rockets to win (over LA).
That's a lot of IFs, but there is a solid chance they all happen. The Clippers want HCA, so they won't rest against easy opponents Portland or Sacramento.
Memphis is a wild card - will they fight for HCA, more than they did on Monday night?
And thanks to the Suns win last night, Houston now HAS to beat LA on Wednesday. If Houston had won last night, they might have not even shown up, having the #7 seed locked up already.
If these things happen, the Suns get a second lottery pick (#14 overall) while the Lakers start their summer vacation on the same day the Suns do.
The Phoenix Suns decided to go out on a high note for their fans. They played hard, they played fun and had the fans cheering more consistently than in most any game this season (besides the Laker wins maybe).
The Suns scored their most points since Lindsey Hunter took over, and second-most this whole season. A microcosm of their effort was a steal by Dragic and, on the next possession, a putback by Tucker.
The best part is that now Houston HAS to beat LA on Wednesday to definitely avoid OKC in round one. Thanks Houston!
After winning the game, the Suns players threw autographed basketballs and T-shirts into the crowd. Nice sendoff.
Way to leave a good taste on our pallets, Suns. Thank you.
The Suns started off the game with a bang, going up 35-23 very quickly in the first quarter. Luis Scola was balling, as was Goran Dragic. it was like a big weight was lifted and the Suns were playing focused, despite missing their top two centers once again. Scola made a plethora of midrange jumpers to frustrate Rockets C Asik, and Dragic was slicing and dicing through the lane and racking up assists.
When Kevin McHale called timeout, it appeared he would right the Rockets focus but all he did was wake up James Harden's drive-and-draw game. The rest of the Rox still played like they were in quicksand.
By the end of the first, the Suns nursed a 39-28 lead. Once again, a good opening quarter - the latest trend from the Suns in the last couple of weeks. Dragic had 8 points and 9 assists, while Scola put up 14 and 5 against their former team. It was truly a two-man game. Scola proving himself one more time can improve his trade value over summer.
In the second quarter, the Rockets kept driving to the lane, drawing more fouls and getting them on demand. Jeremy Lin took Kendall Marshall to school on the court, and Marshall appeared to be in first grade.
Carlos Delfino always seems to play like an All-Star against the Suns, putting up 6 points, 3 rebounds and assist and a block in only 6 minutes of play as the Rockets outscored the Suns 24-11 to start the second quarter.
The good they were a-gone, just like the lead. Rockets up 52-50 with 6 mins left in half.
The Suns eventually righted the ship though, and took a lead back into halftime. Funnily enough, that coincided with Dragic coming back into the game.
Dragic finished the half with 12 points, 13 assists and 2 steals.
The Suns biggest problem in recent games has been the third quarter, giving up twice as many points as they've scored.
But tonight, the Suns came out to play the third like it was any other quarter. Even with Dragic going out a while (to stitch a cut), the Suns extended their lead to open the third, leading 80-71 with 5:38 remaining.
McHale once again tried to wake up his troops. The Rockets made a couple of threes, but the Suns found a way to keep scoring by hitting the paint hard themselves, especially P.J. Tucker.
Again, Delfino a Suns killer this season, hit two more threes in the third when the Rockets needed some scoring. 4-5 on threes. Ouch. Rockets cut the lead from 12 to 7 in the final seconds of the third.
But hey, it wasn't a bloodbath in the third! Woo hoo! Phoenix outscored Houston 23-22 without Dragic most of the quarter.
"Rocky" came back into the building in the 4th with a huge bandage over his eye. He made a quick three and had a nice assist right away to help the Suns push the lead back to 10.
Dragic and Scola were really carrying the load all night, trying to finish off the season right on their new home court against their old home court.
When the Rockets cut the lead to three, Markieff Morris (who already had 16 points, 6 rebounds, 5 blocks and 5 assists) came back into the game. Morris quickly scored inside on a putback of his own miss, and then another block soon after.
When Kendall Marshall scored on a nifty drive against defensive dynamo Patrick Beverly, McHale once again called timeout with an 8-point deficit. These Suns were not just going to fade away on this night.