Only three letters and one punctuation mark to describe Coach Alvin’s debut: W-O-W! Okay, given that it was the Clippers, make that w-o-w.
One day of practice under a new coach couldn’t make that much of a technical difference, but apparently a day away from the old coach like a month in the country for the Suns, and seemed to make an enormous difference in the team’s attitude.
They haven’t looked this relaxed and full of fire all year. They not only ran but they positively soared and swaggered, and the fans clearly ate it up. The numbers alone were mind numbing — 33 fast break points, 90 points in the paint (WAY in the paint, with 34 of the team’s 56 hoops coming on lay-ups), and a whopping 58-21 edge on the boards.
And if Coach Alvin hadn’t rested his regulars in the final 15 minutes or so the Suns would have made a strong run at the franchise record 173 points set in Denver in 1990.
So what are we to make of this? Was Terry Porter that bad? Is Alvin Gentry that good?
The answers are no, and no.
Blaming Porter’s COACHING for the funk the Suns found themselves in was like blaming the Johnstown flood in Pennsylvania on a leaky faucet in Altoona. That funk has been four years in the making, and Porter was actually fired for trying to do the highly improbable if not downright impossible task General Manager Steve Kerr hired him to do – add defense and discipline without subtracting run and fun.
The players dug in their heels against Porter before he even conducted his first practice. In fact, perhaps even before he was named to succeed Mike D’Antoni. I suspect just reading that somebody was going to try to make them play defense and maybe wait 10 or 12 seconds to shoot was enough to sow the seeds of resistance which have been so apparent in the team’s play.
It was said that the players tuned Terry out, but this assumes a fact not in evidence, namely that they had ever tuned him in the first place. Consciously or subconsciously they wanted him gone even before Day One, and when players want you gone in the NBA you are definitely going, and sooner rather than later.
Given that management was the one that picked him for “Mission: Improbable” in the first place, one would have wished it had eased him out a bit more gracefully. And to be charitable maybe that was their intention, but leaks made it impossible.
But while he didn’t cause the problems, his only real sin being failure to miraculously solve them, the hard truth is the solution had to start with replacing him. All you had to do was watch the Suns happily cavorting like kids let loose for recess Tuesday night to appreciate that point.
If nothing else, Porter’s exit deprived the players of a convenient alibi for their own failures, and trust me, no players in any sport ever met an alibi they didn’t like. And Gentry was the perfect choice to follows him. In hindsight, his long years of coaching experience and comfort with the D’Antoni practice and game systems should have the made him the perfect choice in the first place.
But that’s only in hindsight. There was no clamor for him when D’Antoni departed. I for one was too busy deploring that departure to beat the drums for any replacement. And like it or not, Gentry is now cast in the role of good cop replacement for bad cop Porter.
And being of a certain age, I am able to recall that this same sequence had spectacular success some 20 years or so ago when laid back Lenny Wilkens replaced hard-nosed Bob Hopkins and led the Sonics to an NBA title. That’s not a prediction mind you, just a recollection.
In any case, the players will give Gentry the chance they never gave Porter, who frankly, through no shortcoming of his own, was not really a good fit for this particular assignment, and the good news here is that he will not suffer financially for somebody else’s misjudgment.
As to just how far the bad cop/good cop spring back will carry the Suns, only time will tell. Steve Nash says there are no clairvoyant point guards or managements in pro basketball, and there are no clairvoyant columnists or bloggers either. (Along those lines, condolences to columnists Pete Vecsey of the New York Post, who is recovering from injuries he suffered while patting himself on the back for his “scoop” on Porter’s dismissal).
Speaking of cheap shots, and without meaning in any way from the Suns’ offensive explosion, candor compels one to note that had this been boxing, even the Nevada Athletic Commission would have held up the Clippers purse.
The bottom line: Laissez les bon roll on Orange Planet again.