The 2009-10 Phoenix Suns season has turned into a train wreck. The team began 14-3 in October and November. They are 12-18 in December and January. On paper that doesn't sound incredibly terrible. Nor do the Western Conference standings, which shows the Suns the 8th seed, only a game and half back from the 4th seed. They are 7-3 versus the Pacific, 14-11 versus the Western Conference, and 17-6 at home.
You didn't let those numbers fool you did you? This team is in a tail spin collectively, and now they have to deal with the circus side show that is the annual Amare Stoudemire orgy of trade rumors. They have little to zero momentum going into the All-Star break, and will certainly plummet further down the ranks in the second half of this season, whether Amare is here or not. Count on Nash,Hill, and Richardson tiring, count on Amare (if he's here) worrying about his future, count on an injured LB returning and being...who knows what (we assume he will return, but there is no guarantee). The lone bright spots at the moment Robin Lopez and Goran Dragic cannot and will not carry this team alone.
An NBA team cannot simply turn it on like flicking a switch. That is, this NBA team cannot. And while the Suns would seem to have the talent, experience, and chemistry to play fairly consistent basketball, they have not for the majority of this season. I want to explore where the blame lies. More specifically, how much of it should be placed on Alvin Gentry's shoulders
First, I would like to express my personal feelings about Gentry. I have spoken to him on a number of occasions and I like him. This is a man with 21 years of coaching experience in the NBA. albeit a 45% win percentage. I have no beef with anything he has or hasn't done for the most part.
Next, Gentry was not the architect of this team nor can he go out on the court and play the game with the individuals assembled that constitute the Phoenix Suns. Further, it cannot be easy to deal with a mostly veteran team who are fairly set in their ways. We saw Terry Porter try that and fail.
With that said, I am going to get to the point-the Suns have been afflicted by a number of problems this season that have little to do with talent and have more to do with player effort and motivation:
- Loss of double digit leads: Gentry: "This is the third straight game where we've done this -- played great and gotten the lead, and we're not able to maintain. We have to start finishing games." (Vs. Blazers 12/17/09)
- Lack of defensive effort: Gentry: "We've got to find some kind of resolve to come away with a win in these situations...It just really got away from us. We gave up 70 points in the second half and obviously you can't do that." (Vs. Indiana 1/13/09)
- Turnovers: Gentry: "You give up 132 points, you're not guarding anybody...the bottom line is that they played harder than we did. We won't beat anybody in the Pac-10 if we turn it over for 35 points." (Vs. Golden State, 12/26/09)
- Overall Effort: Gentry: "In some sort of way, we need to resolve that situation so we aren't playing from behind at the half. I'm disappointed at some of the things we did, effort-wise." (Vs. Miami, 1/8/10)
Gentry is getting paid to come up with answers. However he has none pertaining to why this team goes through these phases. In his quotes above we hear him acknowledge the problems, but he clearly has no answers, since on any given night, even at the end of January, the Suns are still suffering from one of the afore mentioned problems: effort, focus, desire, motivation. I submit that these are all areas that Gentry can and should be responsible for as a head coach.
There is something else we have to consider if we are to place blame on Alvin Gentry: Are the Suns really underachieving? Was the 14-3 start a mirage? Was it just good luck? Or are the Suns constructed as such where this is as good as any of us could have expected? Judging by the problems this team has experienced, it's pretty clear that they are usually competitive throughout nearly every game they play. Yet it's one of the same problems cropping up over and over again. Alvin Gentry cannot explain it, the players are through trying to explain it. No one has any answers. But it's the coach's job to have answers. When he doesn't, one of two things usually happens:
1. If the personnel is right, then the coach has to go because most likely the players have tuned him out.
2. If the personnel is wrong, a trade has to be made to get the coach the right personnel.
So I ask you all Suns fans, which is it: the players or the coach? And lastly, if the Suns weren't paying Terry Porter still, would Gentry have been fired by now?
What do you think?