The Phoenix Suns and head coach Alvin Gentry mutually agreed to part ways Friday morning, according to Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic. The Suns stumbled to a 13-28 record on Gentry's watch—the worst mark in the Western Conference—to start the 2012-13 NBA season.
Whether Gentry deserved to go is and likely will remain a topic of some debate. Gentry led the Suns to but one playoff berth in three-and-a-half seasons on the job prior to the current campaign. But the team's management—led by owner Robert Sarver, president of basketball operations Lon Babby and general manager Lance Blanks—had done him few favors from a personnel standpoint.
Phoenix had long prioritized shedding salary over retaining talent, thereby opening up a steady drain of quality players over the years.
This past summer, the Suns opted to part ways with longtime franchise cornerstone Steve Nash, who now plays for the rival Los Angeles Lakers. To "replace" Nash, the Suns signed former Phoenix backup Goran Dragic, who's performed admirably well (14 points and 6.1 assists in 32.2 minutes per game) in Nash's stead. Not that the cast around Dragic has exactly been solid gold.
The team also went about refreshing its roster by signing Luis Scola off the amnesty waiver wire and Jermaine O'Neal off the scrap heap, throwing $18 million at career nincompoop Michael Beasley, trading for fellow NBA draft bust Wesley Johnson, and trying, but ultimately failing, to sign oft-injured shooting guard Eric Gordon away from the New Orleans Hornets.
This leaves the losing on Gentry's ledger, since that roster is clearly one competent enough to compete for the playoffs out west...right?
That aside, the Suns are expected to name an interim coach within the next day or so, with assistants Elston Turner and Lindsey Hunter the top candidates to take over, and Hunter the most likely to get the gig, per Sam Amick of USA Today.
But who else might hear from the Suns in the months to come? And where would Turner and Hunter rank among that list of other potential long-term solutions to the coaching "problem" in the Valley of the Sun?
And no, Phil Jackson isn't on the list; if ownership is too frugal to pay its players, then what reason is there to imagine that it'd shell out tens of millions for the greatest coach in the history of the sport?
It's safe to say that Mike Brown wasn't the right man for the job with the Los Angeles Lakers. He's a teacher first and foremost, someone whose attention to detail and meticulous approach to the game suits young players better than veterans who've been around the proverbial block.
In L.A., Brown attempted to apply his particular techniques—which included long, grueling practices and even longer film sessions—to a team featuring the likes of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, all of whom have achieved considerable success under far more lenient circumstances.
To his credit, Brown did well to transform the Cleveland Cavaliers into an Eastern Conference power behind LeBron James between 2005 and 2010. He guided the Cavs to the NBA Finals and to back-to-back 60-plus-win seasons, despite a roster that featured little legitimate talent (if any) with which to surround the incomparable James.
Of course, the Suns don't employ anyone who can claim to be even half as singularly gifted now as LeBron was then. Nor is Brown's case helped at all by his perceived inability to organize an offense—a shortcoming that may or may not have contributed to Gentry's exit, depending on how much weight Marcin Gortat's opinion carries in Phoenix.
Still, five-game firing or no, Brown's record remains rather sterling—he's led teams to the playoffs in each of his six full seasons—and those who've served under San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, as Brown once did, are all the rage these days.
Surely, the Suns could do worse than give Brown a chance to restore his reputation with a team that could use a heavy dose of discipline and structure.
Flip Saunders has been out of the coaching game for nearly a year now, though he's not exactly removed from the NBA. He currently serves as an adviser with the Boston Celtics and appears on ESPN from time to time as an analyst.
Frankly, Saunders' talents as a sideline stalker are largely wasted in such a capacity. He led the Minnesota Timberwolves to eight straight playoff appearances while tutoring a young Kevin Garnett once upon a time.
Saunders was fired by longtime friend and then-Timberwolves executive Kevin McHale in 2005, but landed on his feet with the Detroit Pistons, with whom he reached three straight Eastern Conference Finals.
Things took a turn for the worse, though, when Saunders moved on to join the Washington Wizards. Expectations were high when he arrived, but the whole operation was promptly poisoned by Gilbert Arenas' gunplay in December of 2009. That, along with a litany of injuries across the roster, thrust the Wizards into a fumbled rebuild and all but sealed Flip's eventual fate.
Saunders was shown the door last January, when the Wizards got off to a woeful 2-15 start.
The D.C. fiasco aside, Saunders has proven himself to be a quality coach who can guide an organization through a step-by-step process of improvement. He proved as much during his days in Minneapolis and might've done the same in Washington had the situation not been so tragically toxic.
It certainly doesn't hurt his case that Saunders has taken teams to the playoffs more often than not throughout his 16-year coaching career.
Lindsey Hunter has long been touted as a future head coach in NBA circles, dating back to his playing days with the Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, Lakers, Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls. He was a galvanizing force in many a successful locker room, including two that won league titles.
Hunter spent two-and-a-half years with the Bulls as a player development assistant immediately after his playing days were done before joining the Suns in a similar capacity this past summer. His ability to mold young players and recent experience in doing so would seem to make him an ideal choice to succeed in Gentry in Phoenix. Per John Gambadoro of Sports 620 KTAR, Arizona:
Suns brass wants team to go younger and work on development and didn't think Gentrys skill set fit that model— John Gambadoro (@Gambo620) January 18, 2013
But that may not necessarily make him the choice to take over in the interim. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the Suns might prefer to allow Hunter to start fresh next season rather than begin his head coaching career while wading through the rest of the current mess.
Part of Suns thinking w/ holding back Hunter as interim coach has been hope of giving him clean slate to take over in offseason, sources say— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) January 18, 2013
In either case, hiring Hunter would be about the boldest move Phoenix could make in this instance. Hunter's not quite on Mark Jackson's level as far as a lack of prior experience is concerned, but he's close.
By the same token, Hunter has long had "head coach" etched in his future and may well have the chops to succeed in the job, regardless of his relatively light resume. What's more, Hunter has a strong relationship with Phoenix's current crop of youngsters, including 2012 first-round pick (and purported point guard of the future) Kendall Marshall.
With so many strong draft selections likely headed the Suns' way in the coming seasons, it stands to reason that a young sculptor of skills like Lindsey Hunter would get a good long look for this particular gig.
Now, if the Suns would rather go with a veteran assistant who's paid his dues on the sidelines, then Elston Turner is the way to go.
Turner was Gentry's lead assistant and is one of two coaches, along with Lindsey Hunter, whom the Suns are considering for the interim title. An NBA veteran who played in the league between 1981 and 1989, Turner has been in the running for a litany of head coaching gigs over the past four-plus years.
He interviewed for the post in Phoenix after Mike D'Antoni skipped town in 2008, applied to lead the T-Wolves in 2009, and swung and missed on those as well as with with the Philadelphia 76ers, Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Clippers in 2010. He also attempted to land a spot on the sideline with the Portland Trail Blazers in 2012.
At the very least, Turner is well-versed in coaching interviews. If anything, a win in this regard seems long overdue for Turner.
Turner might just be in luck this time around. According to Adrian Wojnarowski, Turner is highly regarded in the eyes of the team's ownership.
Suns front office installed Hunter into organization and see him as future head coach there. Turner is a favorite of owner, Robert Sarver.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) January 18, 2013
The guy's certainly done his time. He spent six years as an assistant with the Sacramento Kings, four with the Blazers and four more with the Houston Rockets before joining Gentry's staff in 2011. Turner's no sure thing (nor is any coach, for that matter), but his years spent on NBA benches have left him plenty prepared to slide into the biggest and hottest seat of them all.
Stan Van Gundy ought to be atop every team's wish list to fill a coaching vacancy, at least until he actually does.
The Pat Riley disciple and older brother of head-coach-turned-analyst Jeff Van Gundy got a raw deal with the Orlando Magic, to say the least. Van Gundy was swimming in the proverbial bath water that was tossed out before the team's biggest baby (Dwight Howard) was traded to the Lakers this past summer.
Not that SVG's unfortunate fate in Orlando was all that unique—for him, anyway. He spent two full seasons as the head coach of the Miami Heat before "resigning" his post just 21 games into the 2005-06 season to make way for Riley's return to the bench. Riley subsequently guided the Heat, with Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal at the forefront, to the 2006 NBA title.
SVG certainly had his chances with the Magic. He led Orlando to a surprising berth in the 2009 NBA Finals, where the team was trounced by the Lakers, and saw his squad fall to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010 after general manager Otis Smith attempted to revamp the roster around its franchise center.
Another ill-fated makeover by Smith left SVG with even less talent with which to work. As such, the Magic suffered consecutive first-round ousters amidst the "Dwightmare," practically guaranteeing a forthcoming franchise reset.
To be sure, Phoenix may not be the ideal landing spot for Van Gundy as far as personalities are concerned. He's a straight shooter who proved in Orlando that he's not afraid to confront management-related problems head-on, for better or worse.
That may not sit well with the notoriously fickle Robert Sarver, but Stan's track record (371-208 during the regular season, 48-39 in the postseason, seven playoff appearances in seven full seasons as a head coach) speaks for itself.
It can't hurt that Van Gundy coached current Suns center Marcin Gortat for three-and-a-half seasons in Orlando.