Lindsey Hunter introduced as Suns head coach, details emerge on reasons the team made a change

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PHOENIX — Lindsey Hunter met the media on the Suns practice court Sunday, just hours after formally being offered the position of interim head coach and running the team through practice.

Almost two full days after Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby held a press conference but didn’t offer up a lot in terms of reasons why Alvin Gentry and the team parted ways, GM Lance Blanks hinted at some internal things that were going on behind the scenes that led management in that direction.

When asked how Hunter’s success would be measured the rest of the season, Blanks pointed to off-the-court ideals rather than wins and losses as things the team is looking to see improve under its interim head coach.

“Some of the success will be in ways that you may not be able to see with the naked eye,” Blanks said. “First off, we’ve got to look at the culture and the environment, which you may not be able to see when you’re watching the game. Because I think the team has played pretty hard for most of the season. but at the same time, in the back we’ve seen guys become more disappointed than we would like.

“We’ve seen a culture where the guys haven’t been as responsive as we would like, so we’ll be measuring that right out of the gate,” Blanks said. “We saw an uptick already in practice with the way that things were conducted [this morning].”

Hunter’s first practice was full of all the team’s players, but noticeably absent were two prominent assistant coaches under Gentry in Elston Turner and Dan Majerle. While Blanks said that all of Gentry’s assistants were offered the opportunity to stay through the end of the season, only Igor Kokoskov and Noel Gillespie, along with player development coach Ralph Sampson were seen in the gym putting players through workouts.

Turner was Gentry’s lead assistant, so it would be understandable if he was upset about being passed over for the interim spot in favor of someone with zero NBA coaching experience. And while Majerle may not have been the favorite to replace Gentry, if he does have future head coaching aspirations, it would be tough to see him being pleased with the decision to go with someone who he may not be able to learn as much from as as he would from a more tenured head coach.

As far as the reason given for the selection of Hunter, Blanks said they needed to go in a direction that would shake things up.

“The simple answer is that the organization needed a jolt,” Blanks said. “We needed something that would shock the systems of us, the players, and risk trumps safety in this business. And we felt this was the right person to take the risk on.”

There’s no question that Hunter will be learning on the job, and Blanks mentioned that the team will look to add a veteran coach either on or behind the bench to assist Hunter through the transition. But the Suns feel that his strong personality will hold players more accountable than they’ve been in the past, and that will lead to a positive culture the team can build around.

When asked what qualities he possesses that make him a good coach, Hunter was honest and humble in his response.

“We don’t know if I’m a good coach yet, right,” he said. “It remains to be seen. But I just think playing as long as I did and growing up around the game, I think that in itself has prepared me. Being a basketball junkie my entire life has prepared me. When I got here Lon and Lance were like, you have a Ph.D. in basketball. And that’s kind of how I look at it. My entire life has been surrounded by this game.”

Celtics reportedly near 10-day contract with big man Greg Monroe

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When Aron Baynes went out with a twisted ankle against Philadelphia, it was quickly clear how much they missed the big man in certain matchups — they need his size against the Joel Embiid‘s of the world. The MRI came back clean and while Baynes is out Saturday against the Hornets but could return Sunday for the Celtics.

Boston is still thinking about adding some big man insurance, some experience, and some depth for the stretch run in the form of Greg Monroe, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic. The deal is not yet inked, however.

This likely gets done.

There is some familiarity here, Monroe played an efficient 26 games with Boston last season. He averaged 10.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists a game, with a PER of 23, going about 19 minutes a night. This season he signed with Toronto, where he played 38 games off the bench but was traded to the Brooklyn Nets who waived him.

Paul George has spoken to Kawhi Leonard about free agency experience

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Paul George was forcing his way out of Indiana and his people were making it clear — he was going to be a Laker. Any other team that traded for him it was going to be a rental. But Oklahoma City jumped in and rolled the dice they could win him over, and they put together the best package (Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis). It paid off. After a season in Oklahoma City, George re-signed with the Thunder last summer and did not even meet with the Lakers. This season George is having an MVP-level season.

Kawhi Leonard‘s relationship with the Spurs organization had deteriorated last season and he pushed last summer to be traded, with his camp wanting him to come to Los Angeles (although the Clippers were always rumored as the more likely destination). But Toronto jumped in and rolled the dice they could win him over in a year (he’s a free agent in July), and they put together the best trade package (DeMar DeRozan was at the heart of it).

Sound familiar? With the Thunder in Toronto (and beating the Raptors) George was asked if he and Leonard had spoken about free agency, and he said they had, but George was not about to drop any details.

There are all sorts of rumors and speculation floating around the league about Leonard, with some recent buzz his camp is still pushing for Los Angeles (but are divided on which team). The Clippers are making their presence felt around him and I had heard from sources, dating back to last Summer League, it was the more likely destination of the LA teams (Leonard is not a fan of drama, and LeBron James‘ Lakers know drama better than TNT). There are also rumors that a deep playoff run could keep Leonard in Toronto, with an organization that has bent over backward to accommodate him and keep him healthy with time off to rest that quad tendon.

The fact is, nobody knows what Leonard is thinking. Leonard doesn’t talk, and when he does he doesn’t say anything. He isn’t on social media and doesn’t look at it. He is less concerned with his brand and image than any star in the league. The team of advisors around him is not experienced or predictable.

After the Raptors’ season ends, whenever that is, he will make a decision. How much whatever George told Leonard plays into that, we’ll likely never know. It’s not like Leonard is talking about it.

Paul George scores 28 as Thunder beat Raptors 116-109

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TORONTO (AP) — Paul George scored 28 points, Russell Westbrook had 18 points, 13 assists and 12 rebounds, and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Toronto Raptors 116-109 on Friday night.

Dennis Schroder came off the bench to score 26 points and Jerami Grant had 19 as the Thunder snapped a four-game losing streak and avenged Wednesday’s 123-114 home defeat to Toronto.

The Thunder made 20 of 43 shots from 3-point range. Oklahoma City made a season-high 22 3-pointers against the Lakers on Jan. 17.

Kawhi Leonard scored 37 points and Pascal Siakam had 25 for the Raptors, who played without All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry.

Lowry missed his second straight game because of a sprained right ankle. Coach Nick Nurse said there’s no structural damage to Lowry’s ankle, but soreness remains following a collision with New York’s Mitchell Robinson on Monday. Nurse said Lowry is expected to return next week.

Danny Green scored 19 points and Serge Ibaka had 11 but Toronto couldn’t hold a double-digit lead in the third quarter for the second straight game. The Raptors gave away a 20-point lead before recovering to win in overtime Wednesday, but weren’t able to match that on their home court.

Oklahoma City trailed by 10 points to start the second half, and was down 13 with 5:23 to go in the third before rallying. Westbrook gave the visitors the lead for the first time since early in the first quarter on a layup with 1:18 left in the period, putting them up 80-79. The Thunder closed the third with a 20-4 run to take an 83-80 lead into the fourth.

Leonard cut the gap to 93-91 on a free throw with 7:33 to play but George hit 3-pointers on either side of a fast-break layup by Grant, giving Oklahoma City a 101-91 edge with 6:21 left.

The Thunder missed eight of their first 10 shots of the game. Toronto was 5 of 6 from 3-point range in the first, with Green making all three of his attempts, and the Raptors led 29-22 after one.

Leonard scored nine points in the second and Green had six as Toronto led 58-48 at halftime.

 

James Harden ties career best with 61, Rockets beat Spurs 111-105

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden matched his career high with 61 points, including 27 in the first quarter, to lead the Houston Rockets to a 111-105 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night.

Harden hit three straight 3-pointers to give the Rockets a 103-100 lead and scored all of Houston’s points in a 13-2 run late in the fourth quarter.

Harden topped the 50-point mark for the eighth time this season, compared with 10 such performances from the rest of the league combined. He matched his career-best total set earlier this season against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

The NBA’s leading scorer surpassed the 30-point mark in the second quarter and the 40-point mark with 9 minutes remaining in the third.

Before Harden’s late surge, the Spurs led by six points with 4 minutes left in the game. The Spurs had overcome a 15-point halftime deficit to tie the game at 81 entering the fourth quarter.

Harden was 7 of 10 from the field in the first quarter, including 3 of 4 from the 3-point line, and also went 10 for 12 from the free throw line. His 27 points in the period were the second-most in franchise history, trailing only Vernon Maxwell’s 30 in 1991.

Harden finished 9 of 13 from 3, 19 of 34 from the field and 14 of 17 from the free throw line.

Houston has won 13 of its last 15 games and eight of its last nine at home.

Bryn Forbes led San Antonio with 20 points, while Derrick White added 18 and DeMar DeRozan had 16.

Houston led 36-24 at the end of the first quarter and 62-47 at halftime.