In 1992, I was introduced to C.J. Parker A.K.A Pamela Anderson on the "hit" show Baywatch (I watched for the articles). Between the ages of 11 and 17, the sight of PA running in a little red lifeguard swimsuit became something I looked forward to on an almost daily basis (right after I got to watch my future wife Kelly Kapowski-Watson on Saved by the Bell ). Then, a funny thing happened with Pamela (we really got to a first-name basis during that time), she decided to get a breast reduction because she wanted to be taken more seriously as an actor. In case you didn't notice, the breast reduction didn't last long as she learned that her power over an audience was not, in fact, driven by her ability to memorize a few cheesy lines each week. Soon she was back and...umm...bigger than ever and I don't think anybody was really complaining.
The Suns (who coincidentally have always held a similar, yet...different place in my heart) introduced us to the 7SoL offense with offensive genious Mike D'Antoni turning Steve Nash loose and allowing him to wreak havoc on the rest of the league. For 4 years we were treated to the most exciting team in the league and a team that was year-in and year-out competing for the title. Now, I have heard a lot of people on here say that we were never close and to you I would like to say, pa-hah! We were conteders in every sense of the word. No, we were never able to get over the hump but had a few things gone differently (no matter what anybody says, it takes some lucky breaks down the stretch to win the title) we might have had a banner raised to the rafters to go alongside the Mercury's championship banner (do they have a banner, I actually don't even know if they do or not).
Enter Steve Kerr. I remember watching the Suns tear apart team after team under D'Antoni and Steve Kerr would be in his TNT booth bashing on the fact that the Suns didn't play any defense (which, if you look back our defense was a little underrated - yes opponents scored a lot but we scored more and per possession we were not as bad defensively as some would lead you to believe). Then Steve Kerr became a part of the Suns organization and his Spur envy was let loose. He wanted the Suns to play Spurs ball without taking into consideration the fact that we did not have the players in place to play their style. He brought in his coach and made a lot of big promises. He took our beautiful Pamela Anderson and took out the part that made the Suns great for the sake of being taken more seriously. We all know what happened - everybody realized it was a bad idea and was not going to work. We had to get back to playing fast and make it bigger and better than ever!
Enter Alvin Gentry and the 7SoS era. Since taking over, Alvin Gentry has taken the most frustrating team in the league and turned us all into believers that they might still pull this off even being 3 1/2 games back with 10 to play! How you ask...well, I'm going to lay before you what I like to call, the genius of Gentry.
Phase 1 - Push the tempo
It seems like forever ago now, but remember when we averaged 140 points over Gentry's first 3 games? THAT WAS AWESOME! Granted, it wasn't the greatest competition in the world, but it got us back on track as fans - skeptically hopeful. Since Gentry took over, the Suns are once again the highest scoring team in the league and shooting the best percentage. Necessary.
Phase 2 - Incorporate Shaq
Shaquille O'Neal has never been one to just sit quietly and not throw in his two cents and this year is no different. Shaq's resurgence is well documented here in these pages and his game wasn't the only thing to come back this year - his ego has made it's way back to the front as well. So, Gentry was not only given the task to right the ship, but right the ship while keeping one of the biggest men on the planet happy. This meant making sure he got the touches he wanted and felt like he was an important part of the new system. And thus, "Seven Seconds or Shaq" was born. We were still run n' gun, but with a twist. When we had to slow it down, we would use Shaq in different ways (my personal favorite is the down screen by Nash on Shaq's man). This is one area where Gentry's genius has really shown through because this is no easy task and I think he's handling it better than we should have hoped for. Genius.
Phase 3 - Incorporate bench
One of the biggest flaws (for the nitpickers out there) of D'Antoni's system was that he went 7 deep. He was not the best at incorporating young talent or getting his veterans rest. Gentry took the challenge of incorporating a bench that hadn't look very strong throughout the season (especially when Amare went down and we lost one of our 3 rotation players (Fropez was hopelessly at the end of the bench at this time) that play the 4 and/or the 5 naturally). Gentry gave more minutes to Barbosa at the backup PG at first and let Dragic run in short stints to try and get his confidence up while at the same time not allowing him to dig holes. He even managed to coach the Suns to a shorthanded win against the Lakers in a game that Barbosa stepped up HUGE for us. Then, Barbosa went down and Gentry was forced to use his only player resembling a backup PG more. But, instead of just playing Nash more minutes, he designed a secondary offense to mask Dragic's shortcomings and showcase the talents of other players. Again, I think what he has done with Dragic is the most genius thing Gentry has done. He started by playing him for very short stints and letting him know (according to several reports) that if he so much as looked at the bench after a mistake then he was going to sit. This started building the kid's confidence and while he doesn't have the inate abilities of a true PG, he can hit shots if he's open and Gentry knew this was going to be what he needed to get from Dragic but he had to get his confidence level up a bit first. Now, because of Gentry's willingness to play his bench and the way he has handled the bench players, we have been able to overcome (for the most part) both Amare's and LB's injuries while still giving rest to our geezers. Genius.
Phase 4 - Defense
Gentry knows the limitations of his team. He knows that Nash is not the quickest horse in the race but that Nash is very good at rotating into position to draw a charge (an underrated aspect of Nash's defense as he is close to the top of the league in charges drawn). He also knew that Shaq was a very good defender down low but struggled up high against shooting big men and the pick-and-roll. He was also aware of the fact that he had some quickness on the wings who could jump the passing lanes and recover if they were ever out of position. What did he do with this knowledge? He incorporated a zone defense and demanded effort and hustle from his players. During the 6-game winning streak, the zone has been highly effective and covered up for the Suns defensive deficiencies. Genius.
Phase 5 - Mold the system to the roster
Under D'Antoni, the Suns relied heavily on the 3-point shot and didn't score a whole lot in the paint because they had the players to play that style. This year, we have far more slashers (not to mention Shaq) and fewer 3-point shooters. So what has Gentry done? He has turned this Suns team into a team that scores the majority of it's points in the paint. He has freed Nash from his cell and has allowed him to be Nash. He has, as stated above, successfully incorporated Shaq into the offense. He has JRich playing like JRich and we all know what Grant Hill is doing. Basically, he is allowing everybody to do what they do well within a system! With a normal team that is difficult, with THIS team - nearly impossible yet somehow Gentry is pulling it off. Genius.
So what does this mean? There's still a good chance that the Suns miss the playoffs this year in spite of everything Gentry has done. To me, it means we need to bring Gentry back and give him a full year to work his genius. Regardless of what happens, he has given the city hope and kept this team in the picture even when everything looked hopeless. This team deserves to have one year together under one philosophy with one good coach to see what it can accomplish. They pulled the rug from under D'Antoni after not even a half a season with Shaq (which...come on, that's not enough time to figure out a completely new philosophy). This year has been a disaster with all that went on with Porter and trades and injuries. Gentry deserves the full-time gig and I am calling for the Suns brass to give it to him. He has clearly been a great coach and has made this a fun team to watch and a thing of beauty. And if Pamela has tought us anything, it's that sometimes it's best to leave a beautiful thing be.