By Ben Golliver
The coach of the Suns will live to see another loss.
Suns owner Robert Sarver reportedly gave Alvin Gentry a vote of confidence on Monday, even with Phoenix currently in the midst of a seven-game losing streak.
ESPN.com reported that Saver said Gentry's "job is safe" and that ownership has "confidence in our coaching staff and we're not considering making changes [because] it's still early in the season."
That report came on the same day that SportsOnEarth.com quoted a Suns' source saying that forward Michael Beasley has become "toxic" and the team could be headed towards a "major shakeup." It's unclear whether that involves a rotation change, a trade or something else. Keep your eyes peeled.
Gentry is in his fourth full season coaching the Suns since taking over for former coach Terry Power in the middle of the 2008-09 season. He hasn't led Phoenix to the postseason since 2009-10 and management made it clear that an extension of his contract, which ends this year, wouldn't be discussed during the season.
The negative headlines from the desert began prior to the team's current losing streak, which dates to Nov. 28 and includes losses to the Pistons, Raptors and Magic. In mid-November, for example, center Marcin Gortat slammed his teammates and Gentry for not getting him enough touches on offense. Gentry tried to take it in stride, but it was a very early warning sign that trouble could be brewing. The Suns, clearly in a rebuilding cycle after trading franchise point guard Steve Nash to the Lakers last summer, have struggled at the box office too, resorting to "Satisfaction Guaranteed" gimmicks to sell tickets.
Prior to the season, Gentry was one of four candidates identified by The Point Forward as a candidate to be the first NBA coach fired. (Note: we somehow failed to predict Mike Brown's dismissal by the Lakers after just five games.) He was brought in to coach a veteran team and now he's stuck with a mismatched roster on a lame duck contract. That's always a bad combination.
Sarver, who has made his fair share of mistakes as owner of the Suns, is right on the money here. Yes, the Suns are currently in the Pacific Division basement, trailing even the Kings, but nothing that's happened to date is really all that unexpected. Phoenix is slightly below-average on offense and terrible on defense. What could really be expected from a roster whose major additions were either cast-offs (Beasley, Luis Scola, Wesley Johnson) or rookies (Kendall Marshall, Luke Zeller). Gentry has four legit players to work with -- Gortat, Scola, Goran Dragic and Jared Dudley -- and he lost Channing Frye to a heart issue before the season even started. That this team won its seventh game by Nov. 27 is actually pretty impressive. A soft early schedule helped make that happen, but this hasn't been a total bonfire, at least not yet. There's still time to get there.
For perspective: Gentry could fall asleep during a game this week and not wake up until February and still not do as much damage as the 3-year, $18 million contract the Suns gave Beasley this summer. Immediately identified as one of, if not the, worst contract of the season, Beasley has delivered exactly as promised: horribly inefficient shooting, sloppy decision-making, insufficient rebounding, subpar defense and a lack of team-based play-making instincts. Beasley's contract figure, combined with Frye's $6.4 million, makes for nearly $12 million of dead weight this season. Talk about tying one of your coach's hands behind his back. Things will have to get significantly uglier, worse than a measly seven-game losing streak, to convince Sarver that he should pay Gentry to go away and pay someone else to replace him rather than simply ride out the next four months. That ugliness could very well come, but there's no reason to rush the process.