Alvin Gentry won't be coaching the Los Angeles Lakers next season.
Because Mike D'Antoni coached them last season.
Now that their search for a new head coach is officially underway, the Lakers are turning over every rock, looking at and interviewing multiple candidates, hoping they find the right man for a job steeped in hardships and exposure.
After talking with Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak by phone Friday, Gentry has an interview with Kupchak and vice president Jim Buss on Wednesday to talk about replacing Mike D’Antoni, according to several NBA executives who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. ...
The Lakers became more interested in talking with Gentry after speaking with several coaches and executives who raved about Gentry’s offensive philosophy, according to one executive.
Interviews at this point aren't to be interpreted as ironclad presages. The Lakers are in the early stages of their hiring process. Face-to-face meetings imply interest, not done deals.
For Gentry, though, it doesn't really matter what sit-downs mean. They could be trivial, they could be significant—whatever. He's not going to get this job.
Not when he's a walking reminder of a coach the Lakers just left behind.
Unlike some of Los Angeles' other candidates—Dunleavy and Rambis, for instance—Gentry isn't long removed from his last head-honcho position.
Most recently, he served as an assistant under Doc Rivers with the Los Angeles Clippers. Before that, he spent bits and pieces of five seasons guiding the Phoenix Suns. And prior to that, he had stints with the Clippers, Miami Heat and Detroit Pistons.
Of all his stays, he is best known for the work he did in Phoenix, shortly after D'Antoni himself left.
Midway through the 2008-09 campaign, he replaced D'Antoni's successor, Terry Porter. From then on, he compiled a record of 158-144 record and led the Suns to one playoff berth in 2010, when they made it all the way through to the Western Conference Finals.
Nothing too crazy.
Except on offense.
Under Gentry—or rather, in each of the four seasons he finished with the team—the Suns never fell outside the top 10 in pace (possessions used per 48 minutes) and offensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions).
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Only one of those first four seasons lent a playoff berth to its merit, but the job Gentry did was mostly impressive.
The Suns weren't the pillar of stability after D'Antoni left, remember. That core broke up. Steve Nash was there, but Amar'e Stoudemire left in 2010. There was turnover, there was transition.
Gentry somehow managed to keep the Suns entertaining using a fast-paced, noticeably potent offense. They consistently hovered around the .500 mark, and his greatest accomplishment was perhaps coaching the Suns to a 33-33 regular-season record during the lockout-compacted 2011-12 crusade. They nearly made the playoffs in a brutally competitive Western Conference, despite Gentry meticulously monitoring Nash's minutes and his playing time.
Surely a team that houses Nash and Kobe Bryant—who still loves to score—would enjoy the opportunity to employ a cunning offensive mind like Gentry.
Alvin "Mike D'Antoni" Gentry
Offensively, Gentry is intriguing. But his offense won't work in Los Angeles. And the Lakers know this.
It's (mostly) D'Antoni's offense.
Back when the Suns were averaging 55-plus wins and flirting with the 60-win plateau under D'Antoni, Gentry was there. D'Antoni groomed him in a way. He helped mold his offensive ideals—the same ones Gentry employed in Phoenix, long after D'Antoni was gone.
From the moment he took over, Gentry preached running and shooting, and he demanded that his team force defenses to play end-to-end.
"We are who we are and I think we have to go back to trying to establish a breakneck pace like we've had in the past," Gentry said in 2009 upon taking over for Porter, per the Associated Press (via ESPN).
That's just what he did. It's what he continued to do. And later on, it became common knowledge that most—if not all—of his offensive system was derived from D'Antoni's, per Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic:
In a league known for coaches with egos that arenas can't hold, Suns coach Alvin Gentry unabashedly admits that 80 to 90 percent of the offense he runs is what Mike D'Antoni installed and taught him.
Why change what worked, Gentry says, pointing to D'Antoni's four full Suns seasons that averaged 58 wins and ignoring how the Suns tried change with Shaquille O'Neal and Terry Porter.
There were a few changes here and there. Regardless, it was still incredibly similar—so similar, that the Lakers aren't equipped to run it.
Bryant and Nash are still key components in Los Angeles' machine. No matter how many youngsters they sign or how many freakishly athletic talents they bring in, they're still going to have a pair of fading stars who cannot run up and down the floor like they used to.
At some point, a methodical, half-court offense must become the standard, because, as Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin writes, the "run-and-gun style is a poor fit for 35-year-old Kobe who operates best as a post or elbow player at this point in his career."
This past season, the Lakers managed to rank second in pace, but that was with Bryant and Nash combining to play in 21 games. If either of them remain healthy through next season, they won't be able to play at whirlwind speeds.
Teams need the right personnel to make this offensive system work. The Lakers ranked 21st in efficiency, because while they had the stamina, they didn't have the talent. There has to be a balance between both.
A balance the Lakers won't have, and won't be able to find and establish before next season.
A Lateral Shift
On the surface, Gentry should garner Los Angeles' attention.
He doesn't hold the clout that Phil Jackson, Hollins or D'Antoni himself did, but he's coached some of the league's most potent offenses over the last half-decade or so. It's also him who is recognized as the brains behind the Clippers' offense this past season.
Rivers knows defense. His offenses were simplistic and predictable during his time with the Boston Celtics. The Clippers had the league's best point guard in Chris Paul and needed someone to implement a more inventive playbook than Rivers could and Vinny Del Negro ever did.
They turned to Gentry.
And the results were awesome.
The Clippers ranked seventh in pace and first in offensive efficiency this year, emerging as a two-way Goliath that could win games on either side of the ball. Of course, the Lakers would love to host a similar dynamic.
But they can't.
Not with Gentry.
Defense isn't Gentry's bag. Between 2008 and 2012, the Suns never finished better than 23rd in defensive efficiency. The Lakers checked in at 28th in 2013-14, so Gentry isn't going to sign on and transform them into an impenetrable force. That's not his thing.
More notably, he's not going to arrive and do anything D'Antoni didn't. Both of their offensive systems are founded upon speed. D'Antoni's Suns never finished outside the top five in pace, yet they only finished in the top half of defensive efficiency once.
Remind you of any team in particular?
Like last season's Lakers, perhaps?
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Gentry won't bring anything different. He's going to be an extension of the coach who couldn't guide them past the first round of the playoffs, and—more importantly—the coach the Lakers didn't want to offer job security.
He would be an extension of the coach Bryant didn't want to play for.
There is no incentive to making this move, this lateral, not-even-marginally improving move. Not when general manager Mitch Kupchak told reporters that hiring someone who can mesh with Bryant's aging body is of top priority, per Lakers.com. Not when Gentry's offensive success is predicated on recklessly fast sets Los Angeles' core cannot withstand.
Would Alvin Gentry be a better fit for the Lakers than Mike D'Antoni was?
If Gentry was a marquee name that would appeal to future free agents—Kevin Love, for starters—then you have reason enough to take a chance. Yet he's not. He's eerily similar to the coach the Lakers had, the coach who didn't work out, the coach who lost the faith of his best player.
"Honestly, I didn't care," Bryant said of D'Antoni's resignation, per ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin.
Just like he won't care if Gentry is hired. The similarities are that stark, the differences that inconsequential. And the Lakers need Bryant to care.
They need their next coach to matter, to be more than a carbon copy of the one they left behind.
*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.