The Case for Alvin Gentry as the Cleveland Cavaliers' Next Head Coach

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 29, 2014

Phoenix Suns coach Alvin Gentry complains about a call from the bench during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers in Portland, Ore., Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012.  The Trail Blazers won 96-93.(AP Photo/Don Ryan)
Don Ryan/Associated Press

The Cleveland Cavaliers are now certain that Mike Brown is not the head coach they want leading the franchise into a new eraand they only needed to fire him twice to figure that out.

Alvin Gentry, currently an assistant under Doc Rivers for the Los Angeles Clippers, should be the next man to take charge of the promising Cavs.

Before getting into Gentry's credentials, the Cavaliers had better address a practical matter first: They need to get the lead out, as Gentry seems to be moving quickly in discussions with the Los Angeles Lakers about their head coaching vacancy. On May 26, Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times reported:

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.

Turner also reported Gentry is slated to interview with the Cavs on May 30, so at least Cleveland appreciates the urgency. Though it's hard to imagine L.A. hiring a former Mike D'Antoni assistant to succeed the deposed, mustachioed former coach, the Lakers aren't meeting with Gentry out of courtesy.

That's all logistical stuff, though. What matters more are Gentry's qualifications, which make him the ideal candidate to take over coaching duties in Cleveland.

Free Kyrie

Mark Duncan/Associated Press

It's tempting to start any discussion of the Cavaliers, regardless of the topic, by mentioning their No. 1 overall pick. But as important as developing incoming talent is, the next Cavs head coach must first focus on getting the most out of Kyrie Irving.

Easily the team's most gifted player, Irving has yet to play for a coach with the offensive chops Gentry boasts. In two seasons under Byron Scott, the Cavaliers featured an offense that ranked 27th in efficiency in 2011-12, per, and 23rd in 2012-13.

In Irving's third year, Brown's complete inability to coach even mediocre offense predictably reared its head, resulting in yet another No. 23 offensive rating. In an Eastern Conference that featured so few above-average defenses, and on a team that featured an undeniably talented scorer in Irving, there was no excuse for the way Brown ran Cleveland's offense into the ground.

Mark Duncan/Associated Press

He's gone now, though, and Gentry can liberate Irving and the rest of the Cavs.

Gentry studied under D'Antoni, who for all his faults certainly knew a thing or two about offense. In the three full seasons Gentry was head coach of the Suns (2009-10 through 2011-12), they ranked first, ninth and eighth in offensive efficiency, per

And he's been equally impressive as Rivers' de facto offensive coordinator in L.A., per Brett Pollakoff of NBC Sports:

Gentry is an offensive-minded coach who Doc Rivers brought to Los Angeles as his associate head coach in order to help the spacing of the Clippers offense. It worked, too—L.A. finished number one in the league in offensive efficiency, with a rating of 109.4 points per 100 possessions.

It's safe to assume Irving will have more fun, be more effective and be more likely to reach his true potential under Gentry's offensive tutelage.

And with Cleveland facing the tough call of offering Irving a max extension this summer, it sure wouldn't hurt to have a coach in place who could point to all sorts of evidence that he's the guy to get the most out of the promising point guard.

Trickling Down

Mark Duncan/Associated Press

Great offense won't just help Irving. It'll also be a major benefit to the rest of Cleveland's young assets.

Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson have been largely underwhelming in their short careers to this point, and both could flourish in the high-functioning offensive system Gentry would bring. The same is true of Anthony Bennet and whoever the Cavs select with their top overall pick in this year's draft.

If it sounds like we're using Gentry's skills as an offensive tactician as some kind of cure-all, it's because that's kind of what they are.

Think about it: A free-flowing, effective offense that gets the ball moving and creates easy looks for players who need to build confidence is a terrific way to improve team chemistry. When the rock is flying around and shots come easily, players are happier.

Duane Burleson/Associated Press

The Cavs need some happiness after a season of infighting and stagnant development.

Cleveland is well aware of its roster issues and generally disappointing results over the past few years, and GM David Griffin will consider those things in selecting the organization's next coach. Per Pollakoff, Griffin said after the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery:

We’ve got very clear criteria for what we feel makes us better as a team. We’ve got a lot of young talent—a lot of young talent that in some ways doesn’t fit terribly well together, and in some cases, has really helped each other grow. We just need to get the right mix. We need to get the right person to advance us the fastest, and we’re very open-minded to what that is.

There's no guarantee a drastically improved offense, which Gentry's track record suggests he'd provide, will fix everything that's wrong with the Cavaliers. Even the best spacing and off-ball movement might not convince Waiters to give up the rock once in a while.

It's also possible nobody (and no system) can enliven Bennett or turn Thompson into an impact player, but a few extra passes and an open scheme on offense could certainly have a cleansing effect.

And that's going to be a major key for the Cavs going forward.

Changing Culture

PHOENIX, AZ - APRIL 25:  Steve Nash #13 of the Phoenix Suns talks with head coach Alvin Gentry following the NBA game against the San Antonio Spurs at US Airways Center on April 25, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Spurs defeated the Suns 110-106.  NOTE TO
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Cleveland has gone through a lot since LeBron James left town, and its basketball team is in dire need of a new outlook. There's a sense of fatalistic doom hanging over the Cavs that corrodes hope and stunts the growth of otherwise promising players.

Gentry has been a part of a few vastly better situations, and he could bring a new hope to these Cavs.

He took his lumps with the Miami Heat, Detroit Pistons and Clippers more than 10 years ago before working as an assistant in Phoenix from 2003-09. There, he was an integral part of one of the most breathtaking offenses and tied-together locker rooms the NBA has seen in recent years.

He continued much of that success as head coach in Phoenix, leading the Suns to the conference finals in his first full year at the helm.

And he's spent the past season absorbing the wisdom of Doc Rivers, who knows how to cultivate an atmosphere of focus, positivity and accountability better than just about anyone.

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

If the Cavaliers want to change their culture (and they should), they can either change out the entire roster for a collection of choir boys, or they can install a head coach who knows how to get everybody thinking positively and working together.

Remember, he watched Rivers guide the Clips—a team with plenty of stubborn personalities and more than a few egos—through the immensely difficult aftermath of Donald Sterling's controversial comments. Having lived through that, and probably taken notes on how Rivers handled it, Gentry shouldn't find the comparatively minor issues in Cleveland all that difficult to fix.

Remember Fun, Cleveland?

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 30:  Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers smiles wide as he is congratulated by teammates after sinking a three pointer against the Chicago Bulls at The Quicken Loans Arena on November 30, 2013 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO US
David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

The idea of a retread isn't often appealing, and there's always the intriguing possibility of striking gold with a first-time coach. Take a look around at some of the league's high-profile hires over the past couple of years and you'll see unproven commodities like Brad Stevens, Steve Kerr and Jason Kidd are all the rage.

But Gentry's not your conventional veteran coach.

He's been successful as a leader, has an impressive resume and brings the kind of proven offensive acumen that could immediately convert the Cavs' biggest weakness into a strength. No, he doesn't have the reputation as an elite head coach, but the list of guys like that is ridiculously short—not to mention populated by guys who are already employed elsewhere.

But Gentry has a solid resume, and he's due for another shot at the big seat on the bench. And even if he doesn't completely transform the Cavaliers into instant contenders, he'll at least make them fun to watch.

For Cavs fans who have suffered through the past few decidedly un-fun seasons, that counts for an awful lot.


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