With the NBA playoffs in full swing, Charlotte Bobcats fans, as usual, are looking past the playoffs and into the future. With only one fruitless playoff appearance to their name, the Bobcats are strangers to the glory of the postseason.
But the Bobcats, though surely a long way off, might be there sooner than most people think.
And it all starts with a head coach. Not some no-name that seemed like a good idea (Mike Dunlap), but a true leader of a team that is full of talent and waiting to explode with the right coaching and motivation.
In short, the Bobcats must stop with the continuous cycle of coaches coming in and heading out. Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo, who will both be entering their third seasons in the NBA next year, will have played under three different head coaches, three different coaching styles, coaching schemes, personalities and everything else a coaching staff brings to the table.
It's not really a good thing to have this revolving door, but there is merit in the fact that Charlotte management realized their mistake in hiring Mike Dunlap, who had numerous battles with team veterans and, quite frankly, was not a very good coach on the court.
The news of Dunlap's dismissal from the team was fairly surprising, but certainly warranted. I wrote several times at the end of the season about how Dunlap's awful rotations, bizarre defensive style and inability to click with players was hurting the team, and I said he should be fired.
Still, after the strong finish to the season, I thought he'd be given at least a short leash for one more year.
Thankfully he wasn't.
Enter Alvin Gentry.
Gentry, a native of North Carolina and an alumnus of Appalachian State University in Boone, NC has expressed verbal interest in coming to Charlotte to coach the Bobcats (Charlotte Observer). There are certain pros and cons to this, but one blanket pro everyone can all agree on is this—the fact that Charlotte has established coaches like Gentry expressing vocal interest is a very good thing.
Sure, Gentry is no Phil Jackson (who, by the way, has been rumored to be in talks to Michael Jordan about a position in the front office). But he is a very likable coach, a guy who can get the most out of players despite not being a great strategical basketball mind and a massive upgrade over Dunlap.
As I mentioned, Gentry is a very personable coach. Seth Pollack over at SB Nation, who is a former Phoenix resident, had this to say about Gentry:
Gentry's biggest asset is his ability to motivate players. Guys love playing for him because he communicates so well and explains things to his team. Players know what to expect and know where they stand. He also does a great job (one of the best I've seen in any sport) at being both the "friendly father type" as well as the the "hard ass". He can scream at players one minute and hug them the next and it all works and guys accept and appreciate both.
That's a pretty good summary of Gentry as a personality. Watching the Suns play, it was clear that players loved playing for him. He would, no doubt, be able to connect with Charlotte's young players and motivate them to push themselves to the next level.
Further, the fact that players want to play for him (for example, Eric Gordon as a restricted free agent last offseason) makes this team more desirable for big-name free agents. A coach that, for all intents and purposes, is a father-like figure, and is able to connect with players on such a high level, will draw interest from free agents.
Gentry also has an impressive pedigree growing up in the assistant coaching realm. He's been under the tutelage of both Gregg Popovich and Mike D'Antoni and has spent his entire life in the sport.
He already has a good relationship with Michael Jordan and is no stranger to the players of this team. As a coach that actually makes players want to play and push themselves, there aren't many that can do it better than Gentry.
I'm not going to lie: Gentry, despite being a player's coach, is not exactly known for developing talent. He is, however, known to delegate those responsibilities to good assistant coaches. Gentry might not directly contribute fundamentally to a player's game, but he will make sure they develop.
He has also been knocked as something of a "ho-hum" strategist when it comes to on-the-court coaching. He's not an innovator, and he lacks any distinctive playing style for his players. That's not necessarily a bad thing. After learning from the great Popovich, it's not hard to see the similarities in how the San Antonio Spurs played compared to the Suns.
It's also worth noting that Dunlap had a very well-defined and conceivably well-planned playing style during his time in Charlotte, but it obviously didn't work out well.
With such a young team, it's fairly scary to see that one of his biggest issues is player development, and that could ultimately be why Charlotte goes in a different direction, despite Gentry's credentials.
The Bottom Line
Gentry will never go down as the great developer, nor will he ever be known as a strategic innovator of the sport.
But his credentials are undeniably better than anyone who would have even considered coaching the Bobcats last season, and the fact that he is known as a player motivator with excellent delegation skills make him a very good choice for the Bobcats.
Charlotte needs to be swift about hiring a coach. The interest in coaching the Bobcats has been incredible, which makes sense given all of the lottery picks they have coming their way, the cap room and the high-ceiling players already on the roster.
I would consider Gentry an upgrade over any coach this franchise has seen in its decade-long history. Sure, Larry Brown and Paul Silas will likely go down as two of the better coaches of this era, but they were at the end of their roads, and Gentry is in tune with the way the game is being played now and very active with his players.
But, at the same time, the Bobcats would have to do a major overhaul of the entire coaching staff by bringing in Gentry. They would need specialists to help develop players to help make up for Gentry's shortcomings in that area.
If I had it my way, bring in Gentry, give big Phil a high-profile position in the office with access to player development and try desperately to bring Patrick Ewing in as Gentry's second in command.
That's a best-case scenario, but you never know what might happen. The NBA, perhaps more than any sport in North America, has the highest turnaround in success on the court. Michael Jordan has many connections with a lot of all-time greats, including Jackson and Ewing.
Perhaps his ownership of the team will finally pay dividends in the way that many believed initially—through connections.