On Thursday we discussed what could be characterized as an unseemly falling out between the Phoenix Suns front office, and their two former assistant coaches in Dan Majerle, and Elston Turner. Majerle had been with the team longer than Turner as an assistant, enjoyed a legendary career as a player with the squad, and walked away from the Suns after they both passed on hiring Turner or Majerle to coach the team in the wake of Alvin Gentry’s resignation of sorts. Turner actually attempted to come back to the team as an assistant, pointing out how much he “love(s) the damn game,” but was asked to take a paid leave of absence for the rest of the season.
It was all very pointless and unnecessary, even if they’ve turned out to find the next Red Auerbach in new interim coach Lindsey Hunter. Hunter has enjoyed a warming 2-0 start to his career as coach, including impressive wins over the Los Angeles Clippers and Sacramento Kings. On the occasion of such, Suns GM Lance Blanks spoke with USA Today’s Sam Amick to clear the air about his decision to choose Hunter – a former director of player development – as coach over two venerated assistants:
"First off, it was clear that he was the right guy based on what I was hearing from the support staff, from players, and others. And the thing that I kept hearing is that they wanted to have the level of accountability, structure, leadership, honesty, someone who was willing to tell them the truth to their face. And they were all saying — as I saw it, and as we saw it in the interview process — they were saying 'Lindsey' without saying 'Lindsey.'
"He's a 17-year NBA veteran player. He's been around the business, roughly, about 20 years. He's worked in front offices, he worked for us scouting for little to nothing. He's a workaholic. He gets in the office at 6 in the morning, easy. He's up late at night with the guys getting shots up. …There is a precedent for (this sort of hiring). We've seen other teams recently who have hired young guys who have played who can relate to the players well and who are willing to develop them and challenge them and make them as good as they can be. It just made sense."
The Hunter hire isn’t the point. As we wrote yesterday, the guy could very well turn out to be the diamond in the rough the Suns have been looking for all these years to build around. To lose that country club image that pops up every time you think of this team, through its various permutations.
What matters is the way in which Blanks dismissed Majerle and Turner. The missteps are still in place, even if Hunter and the Suns reel off a ten-game winning streak.
Blanks went on local radio, according to Majerle, to dismiss any hiring of the Suns legend as a “popular” move. It was a needless criticism that devalued Majerle’s entire run as assistant coach. Dan could have very well served as a Suns ambassador for the five and a half years he worked on the bench. He could have shook hands and showed up at events or run some sort of local radio chat show or simply ran his Phoenix restaurant. Instead, Majerle took the hard job, as an assistant, schlepping his way through NBA arenas over 82 times a year in hopes of landing a top gig.
That doesn’t mean you hand him that top gig. Not in the slightest. What it does mean, after you two part ways, is you don’t demean the guy as a lightweight, popular hire on record in the days following what has to be a crushing weekend for a person that bleeds Suns purple and orange.
Blanks wasn’t called out by name by Elston Turner, who truly did want to help Hunter learn the ropes as an interim, but it’s hard to imagine the team’s GM not being a part of Turner’s dismissal. As we noted on Thursday, angry assistant coaches don’t really hold much sway. It’s not as if Turner was going to poison the Suns locker room, as if anything could help this team get to the playoffs, so why kick the guy to the curb (“with pay!,” the Suns yell) when he wants to work for you?
Especially after denying him the chance to break up his contract and reunite with his longtime co-worker Rick Adelman, as the Suns did in 2011? That’s Elston leaving behind a potential assistant’s gig that could turn into a head coaching job in warm Phoenix to move to cold Minnesota to take on a job that will never lead to a head coaching title given Adelman’s permanence. That’s how much he wanted to do it, and you wouldn’t let him.
And you repay him like this?
This is why your owner Robert Sarver, no stranger to putting both foot and foam finger in mouth, went on 620 AM’s Burns and Gambo Show on Thursday and offered this scouting report of Lance Blanks, from Arizona Sports:
Sarver: The biggest weakness of Lance Blanks, he's not good at public relations.
B&G: Yeah, he has the personality of a thumb tack.
Sarver: He's not good at public relations.
That’s putting it mildly. Don’t call a local legend a “popular” hire, dismissing his work and coaching credibility in his lowest hour. And don’t treat Elston Turner that way.
Let’s get back to Blanks, and his take on Hunter from USA Today:
"We see Lindsey as being a high-level, talented coach with a lot to prove," Blanks said. "He's never walked the sideline or blown the whistle in practice or called a timeout. He's got to prove himself. He has a lot of the raw matter within him that I think is required to be a very good head coach, but he's still got to go out and execute it. That's why he's interim.”
And that’s the sound choice. And more often than not, we prefer it when teams take chances on new voices. Hunter may have been a part of the Suns since last summer after being coveted by other teams for possible coaching roles, but he wasn’t on the sideline as an assistant coach this year. That’s a daring move that we appreciate.
What is not acceptable is Blanks’ reported missteps along the way in dealing with two significant basketball minds that deserved better both as coaches, and humans. This wasn’t a public relations problem. This was a private matter that was botched, severely.