The Phoenix Suns and Alvin Gentry deciding to part ways isn’t a basketball crime of the highest order. Gentry is not a misunderstood genius, and the Suns aren’t a collection of rotation parts that may have enjoyed a shot at the playoffs. The move is just something that happens in the NBA. A respected head coach was given a rebuilding project without many high-end talents to work with while working on the last year of a contract, the coach probably had no interest in hanging around long enough to watch the team decline to offer him a contract once the season ended, and the Suns didn’t mind tossing a new interim coach into the mix to see how things would work in a season that is going straight to the lottery.
It’s the same as letting your respected third starter take to the waiver wire in August. Or trading your productive 32-year old starting forward for cap relief and a conditional pick. The problem is that Alvin Gentry doesn’t get to coach basketball between now and April, which is a shame. That reliever will play for another team after he clears waivers. That forward will get to don a new uniform and possibly play in the postseason.
Alvin Gentry will go home and assess his options. And after stints that could be possibly characterized as “failed” in Phoenix, Miami, Detroit, and with the Los Angeles Clippers, there may not be all that many head coaching options out there. Which, again, is a shame.
Of course, this is probably a shame he’s embracing.
The Suns didn’t make the playoffs last season, even with Steve Nash running the show. They missed out on making the postseason in 2011, which was a steep drop-off considering the fact that they were potentially a few defensive rebounds away from making the NBA Finals in 2010. Gentry was around for all these peaks, either as the coach of a team that nearly won the Western conference finals in 2010, or as an assistant on the Seven Seconds or Less squads from 2005 to 2008. Nobody sprayed champagne in his eyes, those Suns never got far enough, but it must have been quite the experience.
That experience rounded out with Steve Nash refusing to ask for a trade while working with his lottery-bound squads in 2011 and 2012, and then hitting the open market last summer. Not that Gentry cares, but Nash didn’t rock off to his home country in Canada or his summer home in New York to sign with the Raptors or Knicks last July. His agent put together a deal that would put Nash in Los Angeles to play with the Lakers. Not only was his Hall of Fame point guard out of his personal picture, that guard would be around for four intra-division games over the course of 2012-13.
Faced with keeping the fans around, the Suns embarked on an odd rebuilding process. They took a chance on Kendall Marshall in the lottery, a hopeful point guard to look forward to, but they also understandably tried to stem the tide with recognizable faces.
Goran Dragic, that Phoenix hero that just about single-handedly vanquished the hated San Antonio Spurs back in the 2010 playoffs, was brought back. Luis Scola, who was waived by Houston in order to clear cap space for a potential deal for a star, was signed on. The team attempted to sign Eric Gordon, whose restricted free agent contract offer was matched (much to the chagrin of Gordon) by New Orleans. Michael Beasley, just four years removed from being thought of as a potential first overall pick in the NBA draft, was signed to a moderately-sized contract. All potentially entertaining players. All offensive-minded, all destined to entertain.
To the NBA junkie, the Suns have entertained. Still, because the team’s front office went into the 2012 offseason knowing that they wouldn’t be working with the sort of lottery pick you get from bottoming out and losing 65 games, it spent its resources and energy on fun but not franchise players. And to a coach used to working with someone that made him want to get out of bed in the morning, it probably wore on Gentry. There was no 19-year project with All-Star potential to work with. No max-level superstar to adhere to. Nothing but a commitment to mediocrity.
This isn’t something to kill Phoenix for. Perhaps, if you’re a Suns fan, you’d wish that they’d stop faffing about and bottom out in order to grab that next decade-changer out of the draft. The obsession with the so-so Eric Gordon and reluctance to deal Nash until it was too late doesn’t speak well of the team’s front office.
Still, in return, the Suns acquired entertaining players and someone in Beasley whose potential could still turn into actual production if he had his head on straight. Rebuilding years typically don’t start with the 13th overall pick, as Phoenix had last year; and while it’s their fault for letting it drag on this long, can you blame the team for sticking it out as long as they could with someone who might be the greatest point guard in NBA history?
Alvin Gentry, understandably, didn’t want to stick it out for three more months. His team lost to a clueless Milwaukee Bucks squad on Thursday. His win total, even before the mid-point of the season, has already eclipsed what many expected of the Suns this year. His interest, predictably, went elsewhere.
Nobody’s walking away unhappy, but that doesn’t mean anybody should be happy about Alvin Gentry being out of the NBA for a few months.