TrueHoop: Alvin Gentry

Naked Shaquille O'Neal antics

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
1:32
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Veteran NBA coach Alvin Gentry with a classic tale of life with Shaquille O'Neal.

video

It's Donald Sterling's show in Los Angeles

June, 3, 2013
6/03/13
12:58
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Clippers' coaching candidates
NBAE/Getty ImagesTrying to handicap the Clippers' coaching field is a fool's errand.
There are no bad head coaching gigs in the NBA. Only 30 positions exist in the league and that scarcity means that hundreds of capable professionals who have spent a lifetime preparing to be an NBA head coach never get the chance. But some coaching jobs are more attractive than others, and of the remaining vacancies, the Clippers’ opportunity is most alluring.

Before Chris Paul and Blake Griffin suited up for the Clippers, back when Cuttino Mobley was the highest-paid unrestricted free agent in franchise history, it was a different workplace, literally.

“Sometimes we’d practice at Southwest college, sometimes at UCLA, sometimes at [Veterans Sports Complex in] Carson,” Alvin Gentry said. “ Now look at the facility -- it’s as nice as there is in the league. There’s a totally different vibe now around the team. Darius Miles was a popular player, but he wasn’t selling the jerseys Blake [Griffin] and Chris [Paul] sell.”

Gentry coached the Clippers for nearly three seasons between 2000 and 2003 and is now on the list of leading candidates to succeed Vinny Del Negro for the 2013-14 season and beyond. The slate includes Indiana Pacers assistant coach Brian Shaw and former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott. Now that Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins has been granted permission to speak to other teams, he assumes a spot toward the top of the Clippers’ list.

There’s increasing chatter about ESPN analyst and former Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy, though there’s no indication how eager Van Gundy is to take the gig. Denver Nuggets coach George Karl could enter the fray, though he’s currently under contract. That means the Clippers would need permission to reach out to him formally, and be fairly sold on the idea that Karl would be their choice, if they did.
 

The interview process will proceed with Clippers management, a group that includes team president Andy Roeser, vice president of basketball operations Gary Sacks, director of basketball operations Gerald Madkins and director of basketball management Eric Miller. The candidates will lay out their respective visions for the on-court product, share their philosophies, tout their achievements, emphasize their capacity to communicate and convey the kind of temperament befitting of an NBA head coach.

Expectations for the Clippers have multiplied exponentially, and the bar for the next coach is nothing short of a conference championship. That’s never been the case in any of the Clippers’ previous hirings, but one thing hasn’t changed:

The choice will be made by Clippers owner Donald T. Sterling.

The management team has been given the freedom to draw up the short list and they’ll be invited to voice their recommendations, but the final decision on a head coaching hire has always been Sterling’s call. That was the case when Sterling opted for Del Negro in 2010 over management’s recommendation of Dwane Casey, and Sterling will exercise his rightful claim to render the verdict again this year.

The Clippers job isn’t won in a conference room or in whiteboard exhibitions, it’s won at Sterling’s home up in Malibu and at dining rooms for the well-heeled in Beverly Hills. Of all the privileges as team owner, choosing a head coach might be the one Sterling savors most. The ring-kissing procession places him at the center of the affair. Candidates regale him with praise, and share insider anecdotes. They grant him equal footing on discussions of basketball while eliciting his opinions, and they listen attentively to his descriptions of what he wants in a head coach. That the open position with his team is more desirable than ever makes this year's proceedings all the more fun for Sterling.
 

Management still gets to arrange the display case for Sterling. The group will shine the spotlight on the couple of candidates it prefers most, and will lay out the comparative strengths and shortcomings for the owner.

Gentry is well-liked by the front office, which values his combination of affability, experience, media savvy and game preparation skills. From an X’s & O’s standpoint, the Gentrification of the Clippers would begin with spacing, getting Griffin on the move, sending shooters to the corners early for quick-hitters, taking the best principles of Suns basketball and creating the conditions for Paul to thrive as Steve Nash did. Former players rave about Gentry’s capacity to maintain the tough balance between giving players freedom, but also demanding accountability.

Over the past few seasons, Shaw has interviewed for several head coaching jobs, but has yet to finish first. Shaw brings the blessing of Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant and a Lakers pedigree (a quality that matters to Sterling, loath as the Clippers would be to admit it). Over the past two years, Shaw has been steeped in Indiana’s meticulous game prep, and the Pacers’ impressive run this spring helps his cause.

Now that Memphis has signaled it’s comfortable starting next season without Hollins, the Clippers can pursue its fascination with the Grizzlies coach. Hollins would be a more expensive hire than either Gentry or Shaw, but toughness has emerged as a buzzword inside the Clippers as they draw up the prerequisites for the job. Being the head coach of the Clippers means, first and foremost, earning the respect of Paul, Griffin and a professional but demanding group of veterans. There’s a popular notion that Paul wants unilateral control of the Clippers. But those who play alongside him say that characterization doesn’t capture the full picture. They describe a superstar who prefers to commandeer most of the half-court possessions, but who also grew up in a staunchly disciplined environment and wants a kindred spirit as coach, a man who can get 14 guys to buy into a common vision. Hollins, who wrangled a wide assortment of egos and temperaments in Memphis, is regarded as someone who can accomplish that.

Should Karl become an official candidate, he would be the luminary in the field, a legend who has won 1,131 games and compiled a .599 winning percentage. The Clippers have been battered in the local media since firing Del Negro, and a Karl hire would likely get the pitchforks back in the shed. The same would be true of Van Gundy, whose name has been connected to various openings in recent seasons. Are Karl and Van Gundy legitimate candidates, and would either accept the job if offered it, or are they high-profile names who lend gravitas and sex appeal to the sweepstakes?

Finally, there’s Scott, who hasn’t been mentioned in many recent reports as a favorite, but identifying the favorite in any Clippers’ head coaching search is tricky. This is Sterling’s show, and the candidates will be judged by his criteria. Scott might be coming off a 64-166 stint in Cleveland, but examined through Sterling’s eyes -- and getting inside Sterling’s head is a strange exercise unto itself -- and all of the sudden Scott’s negative trend line as a coach fades into the background.

On the surface, Scott seems most equipped to win Donald Sterling's favor. As a Laker great and native, Scott is beloved by Los Angeles, its mucky-mucks, rank-and-file fans and press corps. He has a familiarity with the city’s celebrity culture and would win the press conference for himself and the team. Any table that has Scott dining with the owner, brass and spouses would be imbued with a halo effect, and it's easy to imagine the well-wishers stopping by to bid greetings to a smiling Sterling party on their way out of the restaurant. Scott would crush the one-on-one at Sterling’s compound in Malibu, an event as important as any résumé bullet point. He’s led teams to two NBA Finals (more than either Karl or Van Gundy), so the Clippers could sell the message that they aren’t satisfied with early playoff exits. Scott passes the Chris Paul Smell Test, and if the experiment didn’t work, Sterling would have a convenient scapegoat (someone he's demonstrated he's already comfortable using in that role). Finally, the Clippers would have to pay only a portion of Scott’s first-year salary, as an offset exist from the final year of his contract with the Cavaliers.

Naming a coach has always been a personal imperative for Sterling, as it is for many owners. Candidates can jockey for position and impress with their acumen. They’ll think they’ve won the schmooze-fest with owner, his wife and the brass, but with Sterling, there’s no method to the madness. Whether he’ll ultimately bow to optics, frugality, a hunch or a passionate recommendation from management is anyone’s guess.

The happy warrior departs

May, 21, 2013
5/21/13
4:58
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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Vinny Del Negro
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesVinny Del Negro: When affability isn't enough.

The Los Angeles Clippers lost the most successful coach by winning percentage in the franchise’s history when they dismissed Vinny Del Negro, whose contract was due to expire June 30. Del Negro compiled a 128-102 record during his three seasons with the Clippers and for the better part of the past 14 months, had a strong case for a long-term extension, at least ostensibly. The Clippers beat the Grizzlies in the first round of the 2012 playoffs, then finished with a club-record 56 wins this season. No locker room outside of Bexar County, Texas, is perfect, and there were certainly frictional elements in the Clippers’ camp, but the overall culture was decent.

Del Negro was confident in what he was building, and turned down a one-year extension from the team last October. Yet despite the regular-season success, Del Negro could never shake the perception that he lacked the tactical feel for the game required to become an NBA championship-level head coach. Del Negro’s biggest fans during his five-year career have been owners, Jerry Reinsdorf in Chicago and Donald T. Sterling in Los Angeles. Basketball operations people have always been more skeptical of him.

Del Negro is charismatic away from the microphone and well-liked personally. He charmed Sterling at a dinner with the Clippers' brass at the Montage Beverly Hills in late June of 2010. The mood at the table was festive; Del Negro was a pleasure to be around and the spouses had a nice rapport. Del Negro exuded exactly what the Clippers felt they needed to fumigate the place after the final tumultuous seasons of the Mike Dunleavy era -- a happy warrior, both confident and communicative. Charm is infectious, but if it's a person's No. 1 personal attribute, it can also raise suspicions if not accompanied by success.

When Chris Paul arrived in Los Angeles, expectations soared far more quickly than either the Clippers or Del Negro anticipated. The bar was set at contender, and Del Negro would have to prove himself as not only a morale booster but as a coach who could design a plan that delivered.

Del Negro never claimed to be a tactician. He maintained that everyone in the league ran the same basic stuff. He summed up his philosophy best during the winter of 2012 when the Clippers were playing well. "I think it's important for guys to go out there and play off instinct instead of, 'Go here, go there,' or whatever," he said. "I like guys to play. I like guys to get a feel for what we're doing and how we're doing it and work off the instinct and play. I think guys enjoy the game that way a little bit better.”

Paul certainly appreciated his coach’s sentiment, as Del Negro happily ceded most of the play calling. It was also nice to have Del Negro go to bat for Paul’s personnel causes -- free-agent signings, potential trades and the like. But having never reached a conference finals eight years into a Hall of Fame career, even Paul realizes he needs a little help in the final five minutes of a basketball game.

Del Negro’s approval rating has privately been described by those in the locker room as running about 50-50. He had his loyalists, players like Matt Barnes who were grateful for Del Negro’s faith. There were also a few players who felt his strategic shortcomings were tolerable given his affable demeanor. For others, those flaws ran too deep. Then there were the detractors, guys who not only didn’t care to have their minutes reduced, but felt Del Negro was disingenuous in his management and inconsistent in his willingness to communicate. Ballplayers also don’t react kindly when they learn their head coaches advocated trading them midseason. That was one of the unintended consequences of Del Negro assuming a spot at the table as a member of the management team last summer.

Despite falling short in the first round and a desperate coaching performance in Game 6 of the first-round series loss to Memphis, Del Negro still looked as if he might survive. The Clippers aren’t an organization predisposed to spend huge money on a head coach, and as decision-makers took an early survey of the coaching pool, they didn’t find many candidates they considered a dramatic upgrade from Del Negro. For all his imperfections, Del Negro was a known quantity.

Still, the series loss to Memphis confirmed all the lingering doubts that Del Negro was a schematic lightweight. He got better this past season, but the growth trajectory wasn't steep enough, and fell off when it mattered most. Ultimately, the Clippers decided risk aversion carried its own risks. Opportunities are precarious in the NBA, and conservatism doesn’t have a strong track record. Better to explore possibility than embrace certainty.

The Clippers will now have to set a budget, one that will determine the direction of their search. Stan Van Gundy is the best available coach on the market, but he’d give the Clippers sticker shock, assuming he’s even interested. Sterling is currently in San Antonio, scouting Memphis coach Lionel Hollins, the hottest candidate on the coaching market. The Clippers could win the news conference with a Hollins hire, the man who outwitted them in the first round, and someone who’d likely meet Paul’s approval. But Hollins has coached his way into some serious money. Given the number of suitors for his services, he would figure to earn in the neighborhood of $5 million per year, and the Clippers won’t be a favorite in any bidding war. Alvin Gentry would bring the right temperament, along with whiteboard skills and, most importantly, a solid quality-price ratio for a coach with that experience.

Whoever lands the job will encounter a bar even higher than the one Del Negro failed to clear. The Clippers’ job might be desirable, but it’s fraught with pitfalls. The most treacherous of those used to be history. Now it’s expectations.

Las Vegas Summer League Bullets: Day 4

July, 17, 2012
7/17/12
12:57
AM ET
By Sean Highkin, Hardwood Paroxysm
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Amin Vafa of Hardwood Paroxysm talked to Dion Waiters about the expectations the rookie faces after a disappointing start at Summer League.
  • Andrew McNeill of 48 Minutes of Hell writes that Kahwi Leonard’s outstanding performance on Sunday evokes lessons from Chris Ballard’s book The Art of a Beautiful Game: “We shouldn’t want to see him dominate, for him to make it look easy. Mistakes are a good thing, so long as they’re coming in ways that Leonard is unfamiliar with. As Sunday night’s game developed, Leonard seemed to make adjustments and improvements on the fly. Where the driving lanes were clogged early, Kawhi figured out how to exploit them and get to the rim.”
  • Some teams use Summer League as a means of getting particular guys acclimated to playing together, while others simply focus on giving players minutes. It would appear that the Celtics are in the latter category. First-round picks Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo both impressed in Boston’s 87-69 victory over the Hawks, but they did not play together much. I asked Melo about this, and he didn’t seem to think it was a predictor of the way the rookies would be used during the regular season: “We’re just playing, having fun, and trying to play hard. We don’t worry about rotations right now.”
  • Sullinger’s father instilled an appetite for rebounding in him from preschool, Sullinger tells CSNNE.com’s Jessica Camerato.
  • If you watch only one video featuring the Warriors’ Draymond Green getting coffee for Charles Jenkins, waxing philosophical about his love of R&B music, and riding through Las Vegas Aladdin-style on a magic carpet, make it this one.
  • Which NBA coach has the best sense of style? Alvin Gentry weighs in.
  • James Herbert of Hardwood Paroxysm sat next to Damian Lillard’s mother, who was in the stands as the sixth-overall pick scored 25 points in his Summer League debut for Portland.
  • Hornets 247 has video interviews with Austin Rivers and Xavier Henry following the Hornets' loss to the Trail Blazers.
  • Blazers rookie Meyers Leonard throws down a dunk in practice and celebrates with a cartwheel, no small feat for a seven-footer. (via OregonLive.com)
  • Chris Bosh shares the most impressive meal he's ever cooked, and rates himself as a dancer.
  • Charlie Yao of Roundball Mining Company interviews ESPN’s own David Thorpe about Chukwudiebere Maduabum, the Nuggets’ 2011 second-round draft choice who was prevented from entering the league due to visa problems.
  • Mike Prada of SB Nation is impressed not only with Bradley Beal’s talent but also his coachability.
  • Kyle Weidie of Truth About It points to Wizards guard Earl Calloway as a standout performance from Washington’s loss to the D-League squad whose impact won’t necessarily be reflected in the box score.

Robin Lopez: back in action

May, 18, 2010
5/18/10
2:18
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
LOS ANGELES -- The moments following a 128-107 loss aren’t the time to celebrate smaller victories, which is why Phoenix Suns center Robin Lopez carefully couched his remarks about his return to action on Monday night.

“Obviously I would’ve preferred to win, but my wind felt OK,” Lopez said after his first game since March 26. “There was no pain or soreness out there when I was playing. I was surprised at how good I felt out there.”

A bulging disk in Lopez’s lower back had kept him in street clothes during the Suns’ playoff run. Lopez played a key role in the Suns’ surge after the All-Star break, but Phoenix got along fine without him in their series wins over Portland and San Antonio -- two teams without a lot of depth up front.

Jarron Collins was the show starter in Lopez’s absence during the early rounds, with Channing Frye logging more minutes, as well. Collins is a serviceable defender and Frye a very capable pick-and-pop man, but the Suns desperately need Lopez's presence in the interior against the Lakers to compete with Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom.

In Phoenix’s Game 1 loss, Lopez got the start and was arguably the Suns’ most efficient big man. His 14 points (6-for-7 from the field) and six rebounds in 24 minutes offered Phoenix a silver lining on an otherwise grim night.

“He’s still trying to get his legs under him, but he was playing at a real, real high level,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said.

That wasn’t true of the rest of Phoenix’s frontcourt. Frye had a horrendous game, during which he stroked as many airballs as field goals. Meanwhile, Amare Stoudemire turned in an ineffectual defensive effort and, in 35 minutes, gathered only three rebounds -- two areas where the Lakers mauled the Suns. Lopez, on the other hand, looked sharp. Whereas Collins is an offensive cipher who allows defenses to trap Steve Nash up top, Lopez can punish defenses for overplaying Nash. On Monday night, the second-year center hooked up with Nash a number of times on the pick-and-roll.

“On that roll, guys have to put a body on him because he’s huge and he’s strong,” Stoudemire said. “Otherwise he’s going to dunk on your head.”

Stoudemire’s point is crucial to the Suns’ prospects in this series. The pick-and-roll is the foundation of Phoenix’s offensive game, and Lopez runs it effectively, giving Nash yet another playmate. Against the Lakers, Phoenix needs as many mobile big bodies as it can get on both ends of the floor. Lopez can do a little bit of everything -- hit from midrange, paste defenders on screens, gobble up misses for putbacks and run interference for Nash and Stoudemire. He accomplished all of the above on Monday night and was a key reason the Suns turned in a prolific offensive performance, tallying 107 points on 96 possessions. That kind of effort will produce a victory most nights, though not if the Suns continue to hemorrhage defensively.

Lopez finishes with authority around the rim, but back in the locker room, he’s all whimsy. Asked if he felt tired during any of his four stints on Monday night, Lopez responded, “I didn’t really feel too tired in the first three minutes of the game ...” He then paused, realizing that, out of context, his comments might be misconstrued as a complaint at being subbed out at the 7:22 mark of the first quarter.

“Not that I’m complaining that I got pulled!” he quickly added. "You know?"

Lopez was the only Sun who finished in positive plus-minus territory on Monday night, something that might keep him on the floor for longer stretches in Game 2 ... without complaint.

Trouble in the middle of the Suns

April, 19, 2010
4/19/10
2:59
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Andre Miller
Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images
With the game on the line, the Suns couldn't keep the Blazers out of the paint.

Amare Stoudemire is a certain kind of NBA big man. Call him an All-Star. Call him a multi-talent. Call him a bucket-getter, a shooter and a dunker.

He's all that and a bag of chips. But do not accuse him of shutting down the paint. That game is all about holding firm, building walls, reducing options and directing traffic. Stoudemire's special talent is breaking through walls, not building them.

The question is: What kind of big man do you play alongside Stoudemire? A big paint-patrolling behemoth, like say, Shaquille O'Neal, drags down the tempo of Steve Nash and company, and eats up the real estate around the rim that is integral to Nash's drive-and-kick game.

The Suns have experimented through the years. This season they found two players who fit. Robin Lopez has the energy, muscle, length and tenacity to hassle opponents around the rim, and Channing Frye has blossomed as a 3-point shooter.

But Lopez is out with a bad back, and likely will miss the entire first round.

The Suns recognize they have a problem. Frye is their "next best" big man. Why not just play him?

The theory here is that Frye and Stoudemire together give opponents too much access to the paint, where there are all kinds of rebounds and easy scoring opportunities.

So the Suns did something a bit desperate and odd three weeks ago: They declared an emergency and broke the glass surrounding Jarron Collins. His skill is to be large and a little mean, and to patrol the parts of the neighborhood Stoudemire can't. The Suns seldom give him the ball, and despite letting him take the court with the starters, could hardly ask for less. Is there any other NBA starter who hasn't played more than 18 minutes in any game all season?

Against Portland in Sunday's Game 1, the Blazers had some luck in the paint, especially through Andre Miller and Jerryd Bayless layups, as well as never-ending possessions fueled by bunches of offensive rebounds. As Lopez and Collins looked on in street clothes, neither Frye nor Stoudemire nor gloom of night could keep those Blazers from their appointed rounds under the basket.

There was one Phoenix big man who frustrated the Blazers, though, and that was the high-energy benchwarmer Louis Amundson. As Amundson's ponytail bopped around the court, stifling drives, catching lobs and closing out shooters, Portland's interior game suffered.

There will be dozens of articles about the only series that started with a road team's win. Many will pinpoint key moments, like Miller's 3-pointer or Martell Webster's twin blocked shots near the end of the third.

But to me the essential moment came with 6:26 left. That's when Suns coach Alvin Gentry sat Amundson in favor of the shooter Frye. Phoenix is unapologetic in its commitment to offense, where Frye excels. But everyone in the building knew the substitution had the potential to hurt at the other end.

The game was tied at 83.

Things happen fast in the NBA. Little leaks in the defense can quickly flood. Miller, Bayless, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum ... The Blazers scored on eight of their next ten possessions to lead 99-92 less than five minutes later. Try as the visitors might to let the Suns back in over the final 1:29, the contest was decided.

The signature play of the run came off a Batum miss. Aldridge waltzed down the lane and flipped up an unlikely putback, which dropped in. It was a little lucky the shot fell, but it was no coincidence that Aldridge got to the hoop unimpeded. No Sun touched him, which will be something to think about for Game 2

Tuesday Bullets

July, 21, 2009
7/21/09
1:46
PM ET

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

Will the Shaq experiment work in Cleveland better than it did in Phoenix? What does it mean for the reigning Eastern Conference champs? Would Russell Westbrook chafe at having to slide over to the shooting guard to make room for Ricky Rubio? 

Shaq & LeBronJohn Krolik of Cavs the Blog: "Ever since the Cavs got LeBron, they've been obsessed with getting guys who will be good at 'playing off of him' or benefiting from his strengths. We've gotten loads and loads of role players who don't need the ball in their hands to be effective, spot-up shooters and big men who are comfortable playing pick-and-roll ball and finishing when LeBron finds them. The one time the Cavs took a risk on a true slasher, they got Larry Hughes, and that didn't work out. But as good as LeBron is, he can't create every play, and at some point the offense is going to need to be able to create good looks using players other than LeBron. Mike Brown has taken a lot of criticism for not being able to give opposing defenses any threatening looks without LeBron driving to the basket or playing pick-and-roll, but the fact is the Cavs never had a player other than LeBron who was able to take a defense out of its normal rotations on a regular basis. But now, for the first time, the Cavs have a guy other than LeBron who they can dump the ball to and will get a basket more often than not if the other team doesn't bring a second defender. Defenses are going to have a much tougher time dealing with this team than ever before-now the Cavs have two guys who are all but unstoppable when they only have to deal with one defender."

Shaquille O'NealMichael Schwartz of Valley of the Suns: "The best way to describe Shaq's tenure in Phoenix is that Shaq was that rectangular-shaped Lego piece that you keep trying to jam into a square hole. Sometimes you can cram a piece of it in there and pretend like it works, such as what happened during the short-lived 'Seven Seconds or Shaq' Era, but at the end of the day the piece just doesn't fit. You almost wanted Alvin Gentry to submit to a lie detector test when he kept talking about how great it was to be able to throw the ball down low to the Most Dominant Ever. The thing is Gentry's Suns are built to run guys like Shaq off the floor. Sure, it was nice to get a few easy buckets once in a while, but the Suns cannot compete with [Steve] Nash and Shaq guarding the opposition's pick-and-roll when his offensive game doesn't mesh either. On one hand, this is a case of addition by subtraction in that now Amare (assuming he's not dealt either) is free to operate on the low block by himself, and Nash won't have to worry about mouths to feed, he can just play Phoenix Suns basketball and whoever's open shoots the rock, just like old times. As for what the Suns tangibly get out of this? A pile of money large enough for Scrooge McDuck to dive into."

Russell WestbrookRoyce Young of Daily Thunder: "[Russell] Westbrook has said repeatedly that he wants to be a point guard and I don't doubt him. I wanted to be an astronaut but at some point I had to realize maybe that wasn't happening ... I know the report today is that Westbrook wouldn't be happy about [Ricky] Rubio stepping in. And that's fine, I'd understand that. But I don't think it should be taken as a 'You're not a point guard, move over' type of thing. And I don't think Westbrook would take it that way ... It's not like the Colts drafting Sam Bradford and telling Peyton Manning he has to be a tight end. The ball will still be in Westbrook's hands plenty and he'll probably stay every bit the point guard he is right now. Because if we're honest with ourselves, and Russ is honest with himself, it's not like he's going to be a player like Steve Nash that racks up 15 or 16 assists. He's a scoring point guard and that's what he wants to be. I worry a little about offending Russ. He seems intent on being a point guard and I'd hate to hurt his confidence by bringing in Rubio. If that report is accurate, then that's a little bothersome. It doesn't sound like the Westbrook I've watched and listened to for a year though. He never struck me as a prima donna, I-get-what-I-want-and-I'll-ask-out-if-I-don't-get-it kind of player. He seems like a do-what's-best-for-the-team kind of guy. But I could be wrong."

THE FINAL WORD
Orlando Magic Daily: What the Shaq trade means for the Magic.
Hardwood Paroxysm: Now available for your aural pleasure at iTunes!
PistonPowered: Smart look at Detroit's draft options.
Wizznutzz: The Randy Foye t-shirt is hot off ... whatever t-shirts come hot off. 

(Photos by Ezra Shaw, Sam Forencich, Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)

LeBron James continues to flout the fundamental laws of basketball and physics. The Phoenix Suns are at a crossroads. And is there any reason to believe that a sport that's seen performance enhancement in recent years hasn't been susceptible to PEDs?

LeBron JamesJohn Krolik of Cavs the Blog: "I played Jayvee high school basketball for all of two years. On day one of tryouts, we learned that you can't feed the post from the top of the key. Unless you're LeBron James, who not only managed to break one of the basic rules of Xs and Os, but did it with a BACKHANDED WRIST PASS to hit [Anderson] Varejao under the basket, whizzing the ball by five defenders' ears from 25 feet away on a frozen rope ... one of the things that makes LeBron such an amazing passer is that ... his height and strength allows him to actually make the ball go faster and through different angles that all the court vision and anticipation in the world wouldn't allow him to do normally. "

Phoenix SunsMichael Schwartz of Valley of the Suns: "This summer we'll hear cries of 'trade Shaq!' and 'Amare is a headcase!' Here's my question: why do anything? ... The fact remains, this was not a bad team. It certainly wasn't very good either, at least for half the year. They finished two games out of the playoffs without Amare for nearly half a season. Tell me that's not a positive to take out of the season ...  Let [Alvin] Gentry use Amare to his fullest and keep Shaq as a contingency plan on every possession. Gentry plus Amare equaled two monstrous victories, don't forget that, no matter who they played. Worst-case scenario is that it doesn't work out, and they lose a year that they could have been rebuilding. But even if it doesn't, that's over $36 mil coming off the books in the form of Amare and Shaq, assuming Amare bolts after next year. That sounds like prime time to rebuild right there, all while doing it with less drama and staying competitive and relevant one more year."

Manny RamirezDan Feldman of Piston Powered: "There was a time it was thought pitchers wouldn't benefit from steroids. They've tested positive as often, if not more than, hitters. There was a time it was thought just power hitters would benefit from steroids. Speed guys have tested positive, too. There was a time it was thought steroids would make a player's body deteriorate rapidly and almost immediately. Players have used steroids to help recovery from injury. We're in a time it's thought steroids weren't used in the NBA. How long until that becomes past tense, too?"

THE FINAL WORD
The Painted Area: Haubs goes through his 2007 emails to re-capture the thrill of GSW-DAL.
Hardwood Paroxysm: The "basketball equivalent of Lamar Odom and fava beans."
By the Horns: Finding more gems on eBay -- like Luke Schenscher's game-used shorts. 


(Photos by  Nathaniel S. Butler, Sam Forencich, Paul Spinelli/NBAE via Getty Images)

Feel that? It's the Eastern Conference changing underfoot. The Bulls are building something new with Derrick Rose. The Cavs appear poised to claim the mantle, but still have work to do. And the Celtics' fate is in purgatory with Kevin Garnett's knee:

Derrick RoseMatt McHale of By the Horns: "Speaking as someone who wasn't initially in favor of the [Derrick] Rose pick - I thought [John] Paxson should go after Michael Beasley to fill their continuing need for inside scoring - it has been a total blast watching him play. I knew he was going to be good, but he was far better out of the gate than I could have expected. He never hit the dreaded rookie wall. He never lost confidence, even when the team was really struggling to beat even the worst of teams back in January. He developed his jump shot during the season. Though far from perfect, particularly on defense, he was a steady presence every single night. What's more, Derrick gives me real hope for the team's future. Even when experts were foolishly projecting the Bulls as a potential Finals team after their overachieving 2006-07 campaign, I never felt like they had 'it.' You know, the superstar power necessary to make it to The Next Level. Well, Derrick is 'it.' I really believe that. And this award…well, get ready, because it's going to be the first of many."

LeBron JamesJohn Krolik of Cavs the Blog: "I don't think you can say this series is in the fridge until we get one in Detroit. I mean, you can say it, and you might even be right, but it doesn't do much. Think of the last two times we met this team in the playoffs, when they beat us twice on their floor and thought they were coming to Cleveland to mop up. Is the talent gap between the teams much, much, wider now? Yes. But Karma is a bitch. So I'm not going to get too cocky. Hell, I'm not going to believe these Pistons are dead until the clock reads 0.00000000 on the fourth win. I've spent too many nights awake because I think I can hear 'Deee-Troit BASKET-BALL' somewhere off in the dark recesses of my mind."

Kevin GarnettBrian Robb of CelticsHub: "This whole [Kevin Garnett] situation reminds of me a saying we have about the climate here in New England, which is if you don't like how the weather is looking, just wait a few minutes. After the last two months of twists and turns, encouraging recovery signs and pushed back return dates, there is likely to be a new saying floating around in Boston: 'If you don't like KG's return prognosis, just wait a few days.' All joking aside, you have to admire the dedication and commitment by KG here by leaving the door open on a return. In the wake of Leon Powe's season ending, the Celtics' front line has been left with two emerging young big men, the potential return (there's that word again) of a power forward who has suffered three concussions in the last three months in Brian Scalabrine and a backup center averaging 7.4 fouls per 36 minutes of play."

THE FINAL WORD
Roundball Mining Company: Game Two is all about adjustments. RMC provides smart visual aides.
Valley of the Suns: Phoenix would be wise to remove the "interim" tag from Alvin Gentry.
Knickerblogger: Trevor Ariza vs. Wilson Chandler.  

(Photos by Gary Dineen, David Liam Kyle, Elsa/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Playbook: Alvin Gentry

December, 17, 2007
12/17/07
4:30
PM ET

The Playbook is an ongoing series of conversations with coaches.

Phoenix Suns assistant coach Alvin Gentry has been coaching in the NBA for nearly 20 years. As an NBA head coach of the Heat, Pistons, and Clippers, he has coached the likes of Glen Rice, Grant Hill, Jerry Stackhouse, and Elton Brand. He has also been an assistant for the Spurs, Hornets, Pistons, Heat, and Clippers. He currently works under Mike D'Antoni for the Phoenix Suns.

You have been a coach of some kind around the NBA for nearly 20 years. Would you rather be a head coach or an assistant coach in the NBA? What's the difference?
I mean, obviously you'd rather be a head coach. I mean, I'd rather be a head coach and run your own program and run your own team and things like that. However, that's a very difficult situation, so I'm happy doing what I'm doing right now. I think I'm on a great team and a great franchise, but obviously I would like to have another chance to be a head coach in the league.

You're talking to me from a hotel in San Antonio, where you were once an assistant coach working alongside Gregg Popovich and RC Buford under Larry Brown.
I was. I was an assistant for Pop for six weeks before I got the head coaching job with the Clippers [years later] too.

The Spurs have been Phoenix's nemesis a little bit. Do you feel maybe you should have stuck with the dark side?
Well, I don't think so. There's a reason that everything's happened, and these guys have hadAlvin Gentry a great run and Pop has done an outstanding job here. I still think that we're good enough that if everything aligns itself that we'll have a chance to win the championship. I mean, obviously winning a championship is very important.

Before the season they always make people like me pick who's going to win a championship, and I picked Phoenix this year. What do you think, are you going to make me look smart?
We're going to try to make you look smart. I think the whole thing is obviously you've got to stay healthy, and not only do you need to stay healthy, you've got to have some luck. If you look at the situations that have happened, you've got to stay injury free. That's the big thing. We lost Joe Johnson three years ago, a guy that's a really tough matchup for anybody. We lost him. The next thing we lost Raja [Bell], and then last year obviously the suspension thing. And that's not to say that we would have beaten San Antonio anyway, but we had a better chance going in with Amare and Boris than we did without them.

I have to ask you about Jack McCallum's book "Seven Seconds Or Less" for a second. It's a behind-the-scenes look at your current team, the Suns. First of all, overall when that came out and you guys all got a chance to read it, what did you think?
Well, I thought he did a good job with it. Obviously everything is not a bed of roses and there was some negative stuff there, but I thought for the most part it kind of depicted what we're all about and our team and our players and the way things were behind the scenes.

We gave total access to Jack. It wasn't one of those deals where, oh, no, you've got to step out, or hey, let's not talk around Jack. We were just ourselves, and I thought he did a good job of showing that.

There were a couple episodes in the book I want to ask you about. You kind of famously called Michael Olowokandi something that I don't know if we can put it on ESPN.com, but it sounds like "Pansy."
Well, no, and that kind of got a little bit blown out of proportion. We were just talking about dunks one day, and it was really just kind of kidding around thing, and it got to be a little bit bigger than it really was. I like Michael, I think he's a good guy, and that was just kind of one of those things that got a little bit blown out of proportion, I think.

But then in the book Jack points out that the next time you guys played them you hid under the stands for a little bit to make sure there wasn't any uncomfortable confrontation.
(Laughing) that didn't happen. I've talked to Michael after that, and I've talked to him a few times after that, and obviously I coached him for two and a half seasons in LA and had some big games. He had some 20 rebound games and things like that. I think, like I said, I think that one was kind of blown out of proportion a little bit.

That's what we do in the media! There's another episode in there, where your team got back from I think a rough road trip as I remember it, and then you went home and your neighbor's alarm was going off and they were out of town so you went to put on some shorts, went over to check it out and the police took quite a bit of time questioning you about what you were doing there and wondering if you were a suspect, right?
I don't know if I was a suspect, but it just kind of happened that way. I'm sure if you see a guy dressed like I was looking over somebody's fence that you might question them, too. I would hope that it wasn't a racial thing, you know. I would really hope. I mean, I don't get hung up on those kind of things very often. I would just hope that it would just be a suspicious looking person that he decided to ask a few questions to and not the fact that I was black. Like I said, the whole racial thing, I would hope that it wasn't because of that.

I can't get a good handle on race relations in the NBA. On the one hand, a lot of teammates love each other, seems like they've made a big melting pot in a lot of ways, and there are a lot of blacks and whites in positions of power, et cetera. I just interviewed Bob Johnson who owns the Bobcats last week. But at the same time there seems to be all kinds of taboos and things. Like I know people joke about black players don't want to be dunked on by white players. Do you feel like there's a lot of racial tension in the NBA or are we past that?
I don't think there's racial tension. I think there's competitiveness in there. I don't think guys want to be dunked on by anybody. I think if you talk with the Collins brothers at Utah and New Jersey, I don't think they would want to be dunked on by each other. I just think it's a real competitive league. I think what we've got is our players are the most visible players in any pro sport. We don't have hats on, we don't have helmets on, so they're the most recognizable athletes that they are.

But I don't see it as any kind of racial tension or anything. I think guys go out and play. There's a hell of a lot of great black players in this league, there's a hell of a lot of great white players in this league. The last two MVPs, when you look at Dirk and what Steve has done, the last three, really, it's been white players.

I think that sometimes we maybe take the race thing a little bit you know, I don't know, overboard would be the right word, but I just think sometimes you've just got to judge people by people and not worry about what color they are.

Your team, just from reading that book frankly and watching them on TV, it seems like your team is just a place people are happy to be, and it sounds like you as a coaching staff go to some lengths to make everybody feel comfortable.
Well, I think that's a direct reflection on Mike [D'Antoni]. I think Mike does a good job of I think he's got a great relationship with all the players on our team, and that's from Steve Nash all the way down to the last guy on our roster. I think the one thing that he does, he's a good communicator, he makes
sure after practice -- really after most of our practices -- he'll walk around and ask every guy, are you all right, are you okay, do you need to talk, things like that.

And so what I think happens is that rather than have the tension grow, he nips most of the tension in the bud before it can even become a problem. I think that's just a direct reflection on Mike and the type of guy he is. He makes it a real comfortable environment for players to do well in. I think he makes it an environment where you feel like if you have something that you can do and it's in your game that you can do that without any repercussions.

One thing I really noticed in the book was that you, as a coaching staff, encourage shooters. I hear so many coaches talk shot selection all the time and they don't want this shot and that shot, but in that book, we heard you saying, look, we want you guys to shoot that shot.
Well, I think there again is Mike's philosophy, which I think it took adjusting as a coach, when you've been in this league kind of 20 years and it's kind of been the same thing. I think what Mike allows players to do is I think Mike's philosophy is if you have an open shot, we should shoot it because it may be very difficult to get that shot again in the next 10, 12 seconds. So our whole deal is if you've got an open shot, you shoot that shot, it's a good shoot, and as long as it's a good shot, it doesn't matter if it comes five seconds into the shot clock or if it comes 20 seconds into the shot clock.

People have tried to give sort of a thumbnail sketch of what the Phoenix offense is, how it works. Can you give me an insider's perspective?
Well, if you want a thumbnail sketch of it, what we try to do is keep pressure on the defense at all times, and that's on made baskets, missed baskets, turnovers. We try to keep the middle of the floor open so that Steve Nash and Grant Hill and Amare Stoudemire and guys that can drive the basketball and make plays have an opportunity to make plays. Our whole deal is that we take it to the basket, and if you stop us then we try to penetrate and pitch to open shooters and if you don't then we lay it in. It's a pretty simple all around philosophy as far as basketball is concerned.

Now can you give me the thumbnail sketch of Steve Nash's defensive abilities?

I'll tell you this, I think Steve is very underrated. I think what happens in this league is they pin something on you and then it kind of sticks with you. I think Steve is one of the hardest working defensive guys that we have. I think that he's a very smart defensive player. Sure, he's going to get overpowered by some of the guys, but those guys that overpower him overpower a lot of other point guards in this league, too. I don't think that's what I would call a negative. It's just a matter of physically that guy may be bigger or stronger than he is, but I think that it's really you know, some of the things that are said about his defense are not true, and I think as long as he's trying like he is and is working as hard as he is, we're fine with the way he plays defense.

I notice you played for [Pete Maravich's father and coach] Press Maravich at Appalachian State.
I did.

We all heard about how he sort of was the genius that created his son, I guess. But what was it like playing for him?
Well, the only thing about it is I went there thinking, boy, we're going to run up and down and shoot the heck out of the basketball and everybody is going to average 20, and then when I got there, I realized that he was more of a defensive guy than anything, and we didn't shoot a whole lot and we didn't run up and down a whole lot.

I just thought he was ahead of his time with some of the things that he thought about. All the stretching and all the exercising that is done now, we were doing that in 1975. I think that he was way ahead from that standpoint and just some of the things that he did basketball wise, and he was a great man. He really was a great man.

Did you do what we think of now as "homework basketball," all these exercises that he developed for his son Pete?
Well, what he did, we have a lot of drills that we did in practice that would and he was a little bit different. The guards did all the same things as the big guys, the big guys did the same drills as the guards, as he tried to make everybody a complete player and he wanted our bigs to be able to step out on the floor and play and do some things like that. Like I said, I thought he did he was a really great basketball mind that was probably a little bit ahead of his time.

He was just one of the people you worked with. You worked with Larry Brown pretty extensively. We've all heard he's a great teacher, but what does that really mean in practice?
I think what Larry does is he demands perfection, and in order to get that he's a big believer that you have to execute and it starts in practice with your execution. So he's tough on point guards. He really knows how important it is for your point guard to run your team and do good things, so he's tough on point guards. But all the guys that have listened to him and all the guys that have kind of gone by what he said have become really good players in this league.

I think if you go back and talk to Mark Jackson or even Chauncey Billups, I think they'll tell you, they'll be the first to tell you that Larry has really helped their games.

Or Allen Iverson ...
Or even Allen Iverson.

I'm going to run through a bunch of names in your biography here. Your cousin is David "Skywalker" Thompson?
He is.

That must have been something to grow up in driveway games with him, wasn't it?

Well, it is, it was, and the only thing I remember is that when I was a sophomore he was a senior, and we both had really good basketball teams in high school. We decided to guard him as a box-and-one, and I think I held him to like 38 or something like that.

And you were probably happy with that, huh?
(Laughing) No, but he's a tremendous player, and I don't know if the younger generation can appreciate everything that he did or everything that he was in the NBA for a guy his size. But he was a tremendous shooter, tremendous leaper. I mean, the guy averaged almost 40 points a game as a freshman in college, and then he came into the league. I think any time you can line up and get 73 points in an NBA game and the way that he plays and the things that he did, he was a terrific player.

You also worked with Doug Collins.
I did work with Doug Collins. I'll tell you, I think Doug is the most intelligent person that I've ever been around in my life just intellectually and basketball-wise, when you put it all together.

I thought that he just had an unbelievable grasp of the game from a coaching standpoint. I just don't think coaching is for Doug, and I think he'll be the first to tell you that.

But from the standpoint of knowing the game and being able to put guys in situations of success, if you go back and look I mean, when he was at Detroit we came into a situation where basically I think they'd won 22 games or something the year before, we won 46 and then 54, and he did a great job of putting guys in position where they could be successful.

He's just got an unbelievable knowledge of the game and an unbelievable feel of the game. You know, I mean, the guy was the first pick in the NBA draft, so he's got to know how to play. But to me I'm still reall
y close to Doug, and I almost look at Doug as a brother. I'm really close to him. I just thought that he was just he's just a brilliant guy, and I don't know how to explain that other than there's not anything intellectually that you can ask him about that he wouldn't know about, and basketball wise he's just a real I just think he's a real student of the game.

He has an appreciation. He can go all the way back to the Bob Pettits and those people of the world and even back farther than that, and he appreciates the evolution of the game.

Another person I want to ask you about is your former colleague who's now head coach Marc Iavaroni. Can you tell us a little bit about him?
Yeah, I think Marc is the most organized guy I've ever been around in my life. I think he does a great, great job of I think covering all the areas. I think he's going to do a great job in Memphis. Obviously it takes a little while, but I think he'll get guys to play hard for him. I think he has an unbelievable grasp of the game. He's worked for some great coaches. He's been in the system for Pat Riley, he's been in the system for Mike Fratello, two great coaches in this league.

I think what Marc has done which is really good is that I think he's taken something from all of those guys, from Pat Riley, from Mike Fratello, from Mike D'Antoni, and then I think he's kind of incorporated those into the type of coach he wants to be, yet he's still himself. And I think that's the most important thing.

I look for Memphis to do good things here. Obviously it's not going to happen overnight, but I think Marc will do a great job there.

Anything else you want to tell me about that I haven't asked you about?
That's about it, other than when you've been in the league as long as I have you're going to work for a lot of teams and you're going to be fired a lot, okay? But I wouldn't trade it for anything. To me I think it's the purest form of basketball there is.

I think what happens is that in the league, which is really discouraging, is that it's a league of over 400 players and you may have ten guys that are bad apples, and those are the guys that are being written about, and you don't have guys writing about the Grant Hills or the Tim Duncans or the David Robinsons of the world, and to me those are the guys that everybody should be writing about and not the ten bad guys or whatever that are in this league.

For the most part all the guys in this league are good, solid guys. They're easy to coach and they do exactly what you ask them to do. If you take that out and you take 450 guys or whatever and there's only ten bad guys, that's a pretty doggone good percentage.

Actually one thing I want to ask you about really fast is there's only a couple really long tenured coaches in the NBA. Would the league be a better place if coaches got to sort of keep their jobs through the down periods a little bit more?
Well, obviously I'm going to say yes to that (laughing). But it's hard because it is a league of instant gratification. I do think that if you look around, the most successful franchises are the franchises that have longevity with coaches. If you look at Utah and what they've done over the last 15 years, they've won a ton of games. When you look at San Antonio, they're the winningest franchise of any pro franchise over the last ten years.

Obviously I think when you look and you keep continuity within your franchise and be able to just to be able to get by the bad periods at times, I think you can't be judged on one bad year or two bad years. I think you've got to give the coach a chance to kind of get that thing turned around and headed back in the right direction, but a lot of times the patience is not out there with management and they decide to make changes. Obviously that's their prerogative.

But I just see the teams that are winning the most in this league are usually the teams that have continuity within the coaching staff and within the players on the floor.

And they kind of build a culture, I guess?
Exactly.

(Photo: Noah Graham NBAE/Getty Images) 

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