Terry Porter is out as coach of the Phoenix Suns. The failed effort to tame the Suns’ offence went out the door with him.
The sputtering Suns fired Porter just four months into his first season as Phoenix coach and replaced him with assistant coach Alvin Gentry. Gentry promptly promised a return to the style so successful under Porter’s predecessor, Mike D’Antoni.
“We are who we are and I think we have to go back to trying to establish a breakneck pace like we’ve had in the past,” Gentry said at a news conference Monday announcing his promotion.
Phoenix (28-23) lost five of eight going into the all-star break and trails Utah by one game for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
“We have enough talent that we should not be on the outside looking in right now,” Gentry said.
The Suns’ Grant Hill was with the Detroit Pistons when Gentry replaced the fired Doug Collins there.
“Considering the circumstances, considering what we’ve been through, he’s probably the perfect person to take over at this time,” Hill said after Monday’s practice.
Gentry said the team needs to revert to the game that brought out the best in Steve Nash. Nash, twice the league MVP with the Suns, called the coaching change “a difficult part of our business,” but the Victoria guard welcomed the decision to go back to the high-octane game.
“That’s a pretty natural thing for me and for our group, just kind of pick the pace up a little bit and open up avenues for our guys to excel,” Nash said.
Gentry and Nash both said Shaquille O’Neal showed late last season he can be effective in a running system.
“The last 18 games we were 15-3 and we averaged 112 points a game with him in our lineup,” Gentry said. “There’s no reason – you saw him yesterday (in the all-star game) – why we can’t run with him.”
But the transition won’t happen overnight, Nash said.
“We’ve got to get in shape, we’ve got to get that mentality back,” he said. “I think we’ve also got to get some cohesion, find an understanding, a feeling between us that we’re going to read and react rather than be as deliberate as we were. It takes time but I think it’s worthwhile.”
O’Neal, citing a cold and cough, did not talk to reporters after practice.
The Suns are the eighth team to fire a coach this season, meaning more than one-quarter of the league’s coaches are gone at the all-star break.
General manager Steve Kerr said he went to Porter’s home Sunday to tell him of the decision.
“I hired Terry because I believed in him. He’s got a ton of integrity and dignity and class, and he’s got a great work ethic,” Kerr said. “I hired him because I believed he was the best man for the job.”
But Kerr said he probably underestimated the difficulty of the transition from D’Antoni’s unorthodox style.
Porter, who played in the NBA for 17 seasons, was an assistant with the Pistons when he was hired by the Suns. The intention was for him to bring the Pistons’ defence-oriented style with him. It was a bad fit.
“In the last month, it became apparent to me that, look, this is not working,’ Kerr said, “what we’re trying is not working.
“I think we still can make this a very successful season. This was a move I think we had to make in order to give our team the best chance for success.”
Kerr would not rule out a trade. There has been widespread speculation that all-star starter Amare Stoudemire, or even O’Neal, might be dealt before Thursday’s deadline, primarily for financial reasons.
But, Kerr said, “I’d like to keep what we have and go forward and see what we can do. We’ve got a lot of potential here.”
He said he hasn’t given up on improving the Suns’ defence. Gentry, though, said that the ultra up-tempo style he wants leads to statistics that make the defence seem worse than it really is.
Gentry, 53, was the only holdover from D’Antoni’s staff in Phoenix. His hiring as assistant coach in 2004 coincided with the arrival of Nash. What followed were four highly entertaining seasons of 54 wins or more.
“Obviously he’s a great guy and he’ll step in and try to get them back on line,” D’Antoni said in New York. “It’s tough – 30 games (actually 31) to go is not the easiest thing in the world.”
Porter was in the first year of a three-year deal worth about $6 million to replace D’Antoni, who left to coach the New York Knicks.
D’Antoni is a coach who lets his players run and shoot, and maybe play defence once in a while. It was Kerr’s insistence on emphasizing defence that led, in large part, to D’Antoni’s departure.
Gentry was the obvious replacement for Porter, Kerr said.
“He knows this team better than anybody,” Kerr said. “He’s been here for the last 4 1/2 seasons. He knows our personnel and he knows what makes us tick.”
Highly popular with Suns players, Gentry has been a coach in the NBA for 20 years, including interim head coaching stints with Miami and Detroit. He was coach of the Los Angeles Clippers from 2000 to 2003.
The decision to replace Porter came in a series of meetings between owner Robert Sarver and Kerr reviewing the entire basketball operation.
AP sports writer Rachel Cohen in New York contributed to this report.