IPFS Dave Hodges

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The Setting Suns

Mike D’Antoni is a basketball genius. He is the Picasso of offensive basketball, the Ayatollah of up-tempo fast break excitement. Mike D’Antoni has restored basketball interest in the Phoenix Suns, like few before him have been able to do. But wait, D’Antoni is apparently headed for greener pastures and the fans are left wondering what went wrong. And the fans better be wondering because the Suns opportunity to win a championship has now passed. Before I dissect what went wrong, let’s look at D’Antoni’s four years at the helm of the Suns:

 

D’Antoni’s Suns Coaching Record

2004-05: 62-20 (.756)
2005-06: 54-28 (.659)
2006-07: 61-21 (.744)
2007-08: 55-27 (.671)

 

As if this were not enough to convince even the most passive fan that D’Antoni is one of the top two or three coaches in the league, consider the following list of all time best season records in the 40 year history of the Suns.

The Three Best  Suns Seasons

1992-93: 62-20, .756 (Paul Westphal)
2004-05: 62-20, .756 (Mike D'Antoni)
2006-07: 61-21, .744 (Mike D'Antoni)

Is there anything else that needs to be said? I think there needs to be a lot said so the Suns fans can have a better understanding of what lies ahead under the extreme mismanagement of team owner, Robert Sarver, and the new fledgling General Manager, Steve Kerr.

Being a converted Suns fan, I am still trying to forget the coaching debacles of former Suns coaches Scott Skiles, Frank Johnson and Danny Ainge. Under this trio of coaches, failures were many and fan disappointment was at an all time high. Then enter Suns General Manager, Bryan Colangelo, and the mad professor of up-tempo basketball, Mike D’Antoni. Mike D’Antoni’s “7 seconds or less style” quickly became the darling of the media and a fan favorite all around the world. For the last 4 years, the Suns were considered to be the most exciting team in all of basketball. Given the string of consecutive home game sellouts, the Phoenix fans must agree with this statement.

 

If D’Antoni is so great why in his four years have the Suns not won a championship? Two glaring incidents come to mind. First, former Suns star guard, Joe Johnson, broke his eye socket in the playoffs and the Suns just fell short in the playoffs against the Dallas Mavericks. The Joe Johnson injury cannot be overstated. Second, there is the infamous bench incident when San Antonio cheap shot artist, Robert Horry, pummeled Suns all-star guard, Steve Nash. Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diow rushed off the bench and came to Nash’s aid. Despite not being involved in any further altercation, Stoudemire and Diaw were suspended by the league for leaving the bench during an altercation. Of course, NBA Commissioner, David Stern, makes up his own rules as he goes (mostly based on anticipated TV ratings),. In a recent Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks playoff game, Celtics star center, Kevin Garnett, twice pushed a referee during an altercation. Two Celtic players left the bench area during the same altercation and David Stern, dying for a Celtic-Lakers finals which would be great for TV ratings, refused to take the same action against the Celtics that he took against the Suns in the season prior. Welcome to professional wrestling Commissioner Stern. Nonetheless, the suspension of Diaw and Stoudemire created just enough of an advantage for the Spurs to prevail in six games.

 

The two abovementioned incidents loom very large in recent Suns playoff history. However, the final turning occurred when General Manager of the Year, Bryan Colangelo, was allowed to get away to the Toronto Raptors because Suns managing partner and owner, Robert Sarver, did not want to pay Colangelo a general manager’s salary that was commensurate with other general managers in the NBA. Subsequently, Mike D’Antoni was made the GM by Sarver. Mike D’Antoni was not a general manager and both realized that as D’Antoni was relieved of his GM duties after one year when Sarver promptly hired friend and former U of A star, Steve Kerr and the GM position promptly went from bad to worse. Kerr has absolutely no credentials to be an NBA general manager. My sources have told me that Kerr relies on former Colangelo underling holdovers to coach him through the free agent negotiations and dealing with the omnipresent salary cap (something the Bryan Colangelo was an expert at). Under Kerr and Sarver, Suns management has taken a dramatic step backwards from what it was under previous owner, Jerry Colangelo, and General Manager, Bryan Colangelo. The Colangelo’s saw that D’Antoni was given the players to make his system work. Yet, since Steve Kerr took over, he has done nothing to assist D’Antoni except to try and coach Mike’s team with his inane suggestions. If Kerr were the GM of the Artist league, he would no doubt tell Picasso how to paint.

 

The role of a GM is to secure players needed to help the head coach be successful within the style of the head coach  His job is not to micromanage the team by trying to coach the team. IF Kerr wants to do that, then he needs to have the guts to fire D’Antoni and name himself as coach. Kerr has told D’Antoni to run more half court sets for Amare, play his bench more and spend at least 30 minutes a day on defense. As a basketball coach, I can tell you that I somewhat agree with these mandates. However, upon closer examination, these three deficiencies can be laid at the feet of Steve Kerr and Robert Sarver for the following reasons.

 

Robert Sarver’s penny pinching ways.  There is not one basketball reason why all-star Joe Johnson is not with the Suns except that Sarver did not want to pay him the salary an all-star commands. There is also not one reason why one of the best GM’s in the league was allowed to get away to Toronto other than Sarver did not want to pay him either. And let’s not forget the massive sell off of the Suns draft picks for money. So much for the criticism that D’Antoni does not play his bench. He does not have a bench to play thanks to Sarver’s penny pinching ways. Coach D’Antoni has a bargain basement bench that would not play anywhere else in the NBA except in last place Miami. In short, Sarver is looking more and more like the basketball equivalent of Bill Bidwill. Jerry Colangelo should have better scrutinized his new partner and replacement more carefully. If Sarver was not prepared or able to spend the money, then he should not have been brought in as an owner. This will prove the major reason why Suns fans are in for a long tenure with Robert Sarver as the coach.  
 
 
2. Steve Kerr’s lack of GM credentials. Steve Kerr may have played in the NBA but he does not have one business skill that indicates that he should be a GM for an NBA team. Kerr has obviously confused the roles of GM and that of a head coach. Since Kerr become the GM, he has bombarded D’Antoni with unwarranted and unwanted advice on how to coach the team. The final straw came when Kerr insisted on the Shaq trade. Shaq is a great player. However, you are introducing a triple wide diesel to the basketball equivalent of the NASCAR circuit. It was a marriage destined to fail. Coach D’Antoni, although he said he was in favor of the trade was obviously touting the company line in an effort to get through the season. Don’t you think D’Antoni would have been able to anticipate the effect that the trade would have on his coaching style and future with the team? Unlike Bryan Colangelo, Kerr and Sarver have failed to provide D’Antoni with the shooters and athletes needed to successfully run his system. Ray Charles could see that Kerr desires to be the coach as evidenced by incessant advice giving. Maybe Kerr will not promote himself in this go around to be the head coach. However, look for the true colors of Kerr to surface in the near future. Mark my words, Kerr will someday be the Suns coach. Kerr’s word as a man must also be called into question. Last week, he said he would not give permission for D’Antoni to speak with other teams. He said “No, no….. Mike’s our coach.”  A few days later, he has given permission for D’Antoni to speak with the Bulls and the Knicks. The fact is the D’Antoni has over 8 million dollars left on his contract and the miserly owner, Robert Sarver is not about to pay for two coaches at the same time. The pressure is on Kerr to help D’Antoni to get to another team ASAP. His job may depend on it.

Here is what we are left with in the presence of D’Antoni’s imminent departure. First, the window for a championship is closed. The Suns are old and have lost a step. Also, the Suns have some players built to run (eg  Nash, Bell, Stoudemire, Diaw) while oldsters, Grant Hill and Shaq need to be in a half court system in order to play another year in the league. The team has sever salary cap issues. Kerr is lost as a GM and I do not see a rabbit being pulled out of his hat in order to save the franchise. Word in the Suns organization has Diow and Bell and two number one picks going to Houston for Tracy McGrady. McGrady has never been out of the first round of the playoffs. Yet, isn’t that why Suns management is so anxious to run D’Antoni out of town?

 

In three years, the Suns will resemble the present Miami Heat of the New York Knicks. The draft picks are gone, there are salary cap issues and nobody of substantive confidence to right the ship. What’s that you say? Amare will save the franchise There is no doubting this young man’s ability. However, your best player cannot be your most immature and least focused player and that is Amare. Amare cannot play in a system where he has to think. D’Antoni’s style was perfect for this free spirit. To those who have called for D’Antoni’s head, be careful what you ask for. Who are you going to get that is half as exciting or any better as a coach?  This is something that Sarver and Kerr should have discussed before trying to fix what wasn’t broken.
 
All of this has given me a movie idea. The movie will be entitled "The Death of American." Robert Sarver will play George W. Bush and Steve Kerr will play Donald Rumsfeld.

ASU basketball and Herb Sendeck is looking pretty good about now, so is a third party this November.  

  

 

 

 

2 Comments in Response to

Comment by Sam Weathersby
Entered on:
Yeah, fire the coach to cover up Front Office inability. Getting rid of coach D is a VERY DUMB IDEA!!!!

Selling of the draft picks was equally impressive. Inane, stupid, what is the head office thinking...is a good start at describing how the FO mangled the Suns.

A combination of bad officiating against the Suns & dumb moves by the players cost the Suns the playoffs. The terrible officiating was not mentioned except for the side lining of last year to cost the Suns against the Spurs. But that inequitable situation (no suspensions the year before, as noted in lead story) was from the league office, not from the refs on the floor.

The one sided officiating was obvious last year as well. I was wondering why, after the ref pay off scandal, there was not an investigation.

To sum up, it was not Coach Mike who lost the playoffs. No coach could have over come the player blunders & bad officiating.

Please! Suns' head office-- KEEP COACH MIKE!!!

SamFox

Comment by Powell Gammill
Entered on:

Ouch! Not that I disagree, but ouch!