Alvin Gentry, Steve Kerr, and the power of expectation

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Since the Shaq flub, Steve Kerr’s work as the GM/President of Basketball Ops of the Phoenix Suns has been understated but effective. He flipped Boris Diaw for Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley. He drafted Robin Lopez, who was quickly disregarded as an NBA talent but has made a legitimate impact this season. He acquired Goran Dragic, who has evolved into one of the top back-up point guards in the league. He unearthed Lou Amundson and signed a contributor on the cheap in Channing Frye. He extended Steve Nash’s contract, who remains the key to keeping the team competitive. He didn’t trade Amar’e Stoudemire, who could very well re-sign with the Suns this summer.

Plus, after a short-lived experiment with Terry Porter at the helm, Kerr wasn’t afraid to cut his losses and move on. Kerr gave the reins to Alvin Gentry last February, and since that time we’ve seen the Suns absolutely take off. It seemed like a given that Phoenix would start to decline along with Nash, but Gentry has made the most of what looked like a limited roster on paper.

Think of all of those players mentioned above that have made a huge difference for Phoenix this season: Frye, Dudley, Amundson, Dragic, Lopez. With a lesser coach running the show, how many of those players get considerable playing time, even if the Suns faced injury problems? Frye couldn’t find a consistent role in Portland, Dudley was unjustly buried in Charlotte, Amundson played for three different teams before landing in Phoenix, and Dragic or Lopez could easily have been painted a draft bust before their careers rightfully started.

Gentry found value in each of them, and though Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire are undoubtedly the keys to the operation, the Suns don’t run as smoothly or effectively without that core of role players. Gentry deserves credit for not only relying on those players to give him consistent minutes, but finding the roles and positions that offer the best fit for each player’s strengths.

He’s not perfect, though. He couldn’t, for instance, coach his team to a victory in Game 1 against the undermanned Portland Trailblazers. From Paola Bolvin of the Arizona Republic:

Alvin Gentry’s promotion to head coach 14 months ago was the right one, a just reward for someone who excels at player management and whose growth during 22 years in the NBA paid off with this season’s 54-28 record. Little is known about Gentry the postseason coach, however, his sole experience a first-round knockout with Detroit coming during the strike-shortened 1998-99 season.

Welcome to the pressure cooker, Coach. All eyes are on you after the Suns were the only home team to lose Game 1. Gentry needs to make sure his players have rebounded emotionally. Mike D’Antoni used to say if you lose a playoff game, you feel like you’ll lose all of them, and if you win, you feel invincible. It’s an oversimplification but there is truth to the remark.

“We haven’t lost confidence,” Gentry said after practice Monday. Good for them. Now let’s see what Gentry can do with a team that lost its way in the opener. Assignment No. 1: Prevent Portland’s guards from a repeat performance.

This Suns-Blazers series should give us an interesting look into two things: Alvin Gentry’s ability to coach on a micro level over the course of a playoff series (timeout play-calling, matchup meta-game, various strategic adjustments) and Steve Kerr’s patience. Should the Suns cede to the resilient Blazers (which is hardly an assumption just one game in), is Gentry suddenly on the hot seat, despite elevating the team well beyond reasonable expectation? Few anticipated Phoenix being as good as they are, and though the credit should absolutely go to the players first, Gentry deserves some credit.

That credit should be enough to help Gentry survive even a Portland upset, but we can’t say for sure. Coming into the playoffs as the no. 3 seed does bring with it some level of expectation, even if those expectations were generated by the team and the coach’s surprising success. Plus, as little as we know about Gentry as a playoff coach, we know a similar amount about Kerr’s style as a GM. He’s just starting to get into a rhythm in terms of talent acquisition, but he’s also had two coaching changes in three seasons. What’s to prevent Gentry being the first to go if the Suns hit a substantial roadblock?

There’s no certainty that Gentry’s job is in jeopardy if the Suns manage to lose this series; the only thing that we know for sure is that we don’t know. That’s a bummer considering how good Gentry has been this season, but a reality in world where we still don’t know all of that much about Steve Kerr’s managerial style.      


Mark Cuban suggests supplemental draft for undrafted free agents

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A lot of people around the NBA have ideas to improve the draft, free agency and the D-League, and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has never been shy about sharing his. His latest idea seems pretty logical: a supplemental draft for undrafted free agents.

Via Hoops Rumors:

“I would have a supplemental draft every summer for undrafted free agents of the current and previous 3 years,” Cuban wrote in an email to Hoops Rumors. “If you are more than 3 years out you are not eligible and just a free agent.”

The supplemental draft would have two rounds, and teams would hold the rights to the players they select for two years, Cuban added. Players can opt out and choose not to make themselves eligible, but those who get picked would receive fully guaranteed minimum-salary contracts when they sign, according to Cuban’s proposal.

“That would make it fun a few weeks after the draft and pre-summer league,” Cuban wrote. “It would prevent some of the insanity that goes on to build summer league rosters.”

It’s an interesting proposition. Most undrafted players who sign during the summer don’t get guaranteed contracts, so when deciding to enter this supplemental draft, they would have to weigh the value of having guaranteed money versus getting to decide where they sign. It’s unlikely that anything like this could happen anytime soon, because of all the hoops to jump through to get the league and the players’ union to sign off on it, but it’s a worthwhile idea that deserves some consideration in the next CBA negotiations.

Kevin Love to practice with Cavs on Saturday

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The Cavaliers’ training camp has so far been filled with bad news and uncertainty, from Tristan Thompson‘s continuing contract holdout to Iman Shumpert‘s wrist injury (which will sideline him for up to three months) to Kyrie Irving continuing to be limited. But here’s some good news: Kevin Love will fully participate in practice with the team on Saturday for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury in last year’s first-round series against the Celtics.

From’s Chris Haynes:

Head coach David Blatt announced on Wednesday that power forward Kevin Love will make his first full practice debut on Saturday. The three-time All-Star has been rehabbing ever since undergoing shoulder surgery in May.

“He’s coming along real nice,” Blatt said.

On Monday Love was cleared to participate in 3-on-3 basketball workouts. Prior, he was only allowed to do individual work that consisted of absorbing contact from a pad in the post.

It’s unclear when Love will be able to play in a game, but the fact that he’s been cleared to return to practice is undoubtedly a good sign for Cleveland, and there’s hope that he’ll be able to play on opening night against the Bulls on October 27. With all the bad breaks the Cavs have caught this summer, it’s nice to see some good injury news for once.