The Suns came to terms Friday with coach Alvin Gentry on his midseason departure. A friend of Gentry’s said the coach had anticipated he would be fired at the end of the season, which is shaping up to be the Suns’ worst since they went 16-66 in their expansion year (1968-69).
Warriors assistant Mike Malone is among the potential candidates to replace Gentry this summer, according to a league source. Malone, who has long been considered a potential head coach, was a lead assistant in Cleveland when Suns general manager Lance Blanks was in the Cavaliers’ front office.
The Suns’ failure to immediately name an interim replacement for Gentry suggests that he wasn’t fired outright, but instead came to an agreement to leave after meeting with owner Robert Sarver and president Lon Babby on Thursday night following a loss to the Bucks, who won in Phoenix for the first time in 26 years.
Phoenix has gone 6-20 over the last two months while falling to last place in the West at 13-28 overall. The Suns were bad defensively and couldn’t score to the level of their more talented teams of previous years.
His poor record this season is expected to have zero impact on Gentry’s reputation as viewed by rivals throughout the league. No coach could have won with a roster that lacked a go-to finisher. The Suns’ leading scorer, with 14 points per game, is Goran Dragic, an emerging point guard who is also taking on the enormous responsibility of replacing Steve Nash.
Gentry’s hopes of salvaging this season were finished in September when Channing Frye was ruled out for the season after being diagnosed with an enlarged heart. Frye, who hopes to return next season, was crucial to the team as a big man who could stretch the defense with his three-point shooting in the Suns’ early pick-and-rolls. In his absence, the Suns rank in the bottom five in three-point shooting. Accordingly, there has been less room in the paint for center Marcin Gortat, whose numbers have dwindled.
The roster provided Gentry with no identity or strength that he could hope to establish game after game. They couldn’t run because they were porous defensively.
The next coach undoubtedly will be asked to focus on developing the Suns’ young players over the second half of the season, which is likely to produce more losses. Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson have been disappointments, continuing a trend each established previously with Minnesota. Markieff Morris, the No. 13 pick in the 2011 draft, is shooting 41.1 percent from the floor and averaging 4.3 rebounds in 20.2 minutes as a 6-foot-10 forward. Rookie point guard Kendall Marshall, the No. 13 pick, has been unable to earn minutes. “He can’t shoot and he can’t guard you,” an opposing team’s advance scout said of Marshall recently.
Expect the Suns to be active participants at the trade deadline as they look ahead to reinventing their team around a high draft pick and the cap space they’ll have next summer. But unless they’re able to improve their talent at the Feb. 21 deadline, the next coach will have little hope of turning around this year’s record. Gentry was not the cause of their problems.