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.
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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:
It appears that the upheaval on the coaching staff won't end with Alvin Gentry being replaced with Lindsey Hunter.
"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."
For roughly a week the U.S. Airways Center has been an icebox in preparation of Disney on Ice coming to town to entertain the kids of the Valley. That frigid, icy nature created an aura as well as a ripple effect with the Phoenix Suns (13-28) to come to a "mutual decision" with now former head coach Alvin Gentry to part ways.
That has been covered with ferocity and quality over the past 48 hours here on Bright Side.
Now, at least for the next 41 games, head of player development Lindsey Hunter takes over the reigns as head coach. Some feel that this was the plan all along albeit a little earlier than expected, but when Lance Blanks and company brought Hunter on they saw him as a future head coach in this league.
Welcome Lindsey Hunter?
There is nothing to say of Hunter as a head coach or a coach in general, this is his first time on the sidelines. This season he has served as the head of player development and sat on the bench for games, but he is yet to be seen as a strategist or a tactician.
One thing does work in his favor however and that is that he has played for a litany of head coaches with unparalleled track records.
He spoke about the former coaches he has played for and how he plans on grasping at different elements of what made them successful to eventually become the coach he will be.
Utilizing a defensive strategy will naturally be Hunter's first approach and maybe his defining quality as a well known defender in the NBA for 17 years including an NBA Championship with the Detroit Pistons in 2004. He spoke to that as the first thing that comes to mind on what he wants to fix with this team. The pieces are in place to be a good defensive team, but that requires a sacrifice on the offensive end.
Developing the teams defense as well as the young players will be important this season.
This is a very dangerous move and sets an uneasy precedent of a player development coach jumping not just the assistants, but the lead assistant to get on as the interim head coach. The Suns are walking a fine line of alienation towards their coaches. It is not a move that can be judged on the surface, for all we know Hunter could develop into one of the next great head coaches. Letting this play out will let the Suns see on a daily basis if this is their guy past 41 games.
Goodbye Thunder Dan?
From the looks of practice it looks like Dan Majerle and lead assistant Elston Turner took the news of Hunter becoming the head coach the hardest. Neither were participants in the practice and Majerle was not in the building. As an outsider looking in the coaching staff will likely be filled with Igor Kokoslov, Corey Gaines, and Noel Gillespie for the remainder of the season.
Hunter on his staff, "It is still up in the air. Right now I am not at liberty to speak about it."
Turner has an "in" with the Milwaukee Bucks so keep an eye on that if he officially leaves and Majerle has his restaurants if he decides to hang-up the whistle for the time being. That will be a shock to the fans of the valley as Majerle is embedded with the community.
UPDATE: Sean Rooks has also left the team to coach overseas.
Coach Hunters First Words:
As the media scrummed around the new interim head coach for the Suns he had to adjust his eyes to not only the amount of microphones in his face, but also the bright lights that are literally and figuratively now on him for the second half of the season.
I am a little overwhelmed right now, a little tired, but today was fun. If you don't know by now I am a basketball junkie. This is my ideal situation. It was a good day, first day of practicing and I think the guys enjoyed it. The guys played hard and it was fun. It was fun.
More Coach Hunter on if this was what he envisioned, to become a head coach:
Always. I have always thought since high school considered myself a coach on the floor. I have always had really tough coaches that demanded that, i embraced it, and I enjoyed it.
We're developing everybody. I am developing, the assistant coaches are developing, and every player will be developing. If they come out and they work hard and do what is asked of them then they will play. If you do what you are supposed to do then you will get on the court. If you don't, then your time will probably be a little limited, but I think everyone wants to play ultimately and we will try to get them there.
The 2013 NBA Draft Update
As of today the team is slotted in the 4th spot and the 11th spot in the draft if it were to happen today. The 11th pick comes via the Los Angeles Lakers who are playing sub-playoff quality basketball hence the swap of the pick.
Here are the players they are taking in the current Mock Draft (The Mock does not reflect current standings:
At No. 4 - Shabazz Muhammad
At No. 11 - Dario Saric
At No. 26 - Jeff Withey