By Ben Golliver
The Suns announced Sunday that player development coordinator Lindsey Hunter has been named interim coach after the team parted ways with Alvin Gentry on Friday.
Hunter, 42 joined the Suns' scouting department in 2012 and was installed in his player development position this season. He spent 17 seasons in the NBA with the Pistons, Bucks, Lakers, Raptors and Bulls, retiring after the 2009-10 season. He was a member of championship teams with the Lakers in 2002 and the Pistons in 2004.
It's unusual for an interim coach to not come from among the full-time assistants. This season, both the Nets (P.J. Carlesimo) and Bucks (Jim Boylan) turned to assistants to step in for their deposed coaches. Yahoo! Sports reported Friday that Elston Turner, an assistant who previously interviewed for a number of head coaching positions, was also a candidate to take over the reins.
So why Hunter? The primary motivations for the Suns in the short term are maintaining motivation and encouraging player development. Phoenix is dead last in the Western Conference at 13-28 and must pursue a multi-year rebuilding plan that will require a roster makeover. Hunter theoretically provides the youth, energy and a former player's perspective to help keep everyone in line and on the track to improvement.
The Arizona Republic reports that Suns GM Lance Blanks said he hoped Hunter would provide the team a much-needed "jolt" while Hunter came out of the gate preaching defense.
“I’m a defensive guy so that’s the identity that we’re going to try to create, being a tough, nasty, defensive-minded team."
"I love to work. I’m driven by this. I’m kind of obsessed by basketball. I think this is just natural for me.”
The Suns currently rank No. 26 in defensive efficiency so there's plenty of work to be done.
For Hunter, this opportunity amounts to a no-risk, all-reward proposition. The only expectation is that his locker room doesn't explode. Past that, Phoenix's rough start hasn't been a surprise and no one can reasonably expect that he will turn it around. If Hunter proves capable of managing the choppy waters, he could be positioned as the coach to lead the rebuilding effort going forward. If not, there's no real harm done either to his coaching career or to the Suns' season.
If Hunter can coax improved play out of core pieces like Goran Dragic and Marcin Gortat, that's all gravy. But his real task will be helping the organization discover what it has in the six players it has with less than three years of experience (Diante Garrett, Wesley Johnson, Kendall Marshall, Markieff Morris, P.J. Tucker and Luke Zeller). The answer is probably "not much," but emergence from any of these guys will be helpful with the roster surely headed into a transition period this summer. It's conceivable that a sell-off could begin even earlier, at next month's trade deadline.