By Ben Golliver
Suns center Jermaine O'Neal was not at practice Tuesday and will not travel with his team to Sacramento for a Wednesday game against the Kings following an argument with GM Lance Blanks on Monday, according to multiple reports.
The exchange occurred one day after Blanks tapped player development coordinator Lindsey Hunter as interim coach following the dismissal of Alvin Gentry on Friday.
Yahoo! Sports reports details of the exchange between O'Neal and Blanks.
Phoenix Suns center Jermaine O'Neal and general manager Lance Blanks engaged in a blistering, expletive-laced confrontation in the coach's office on Monday, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.
"It was really bad," one Suns source said Tuesday afternoon.
The confrontation happened after interim coach Lindsey Hunter's first practice and unfolded within earshot of several Suns players in the locker room, sources said. It was immediately unclear what precipitated the disagreement, sources said, but there has been considerable unrest within the organization.
CBSSports.com reported that the coaching change was at the center of the exchange.
Veteran Jermaine O'Nealand general manager Lance Blanks were involved in a heated, expletive-filled argument after interim coach Lindsey Hunter's first practice Monday, league sources confirmed to CBSSports.com. One person familiar with the tirade called it a "clearing of the air," but there are many issues remaining for the Suns to clear up before Hunter makes his coaching debut Wednesday night in Sacramento.
Among them, sources said, is O'Neal's concern about what his role will be under the new coach.
On Tuesday night, O'Neal pushed back against the reports on Twitter.
People should be ashamed of [themselves] for reporting things to the public that are absolutely not true! smdh!
Altercation? False! Argument about a coaching change or coaching hire? Even more false! That's is not my position or job to determine that!
Lindsey Hunter is now our coach and we will do anything and everything to support him and try to turn this season around!
Later Tuesday night, Blanks told USA Today Sports that the argument "had nothing to do with the coaching situation" and that there's "no story."
Meanwhile, The Arizona Republic reported that O'Neal did not practice on Tuesday following the Monday argument because of an "unstated medical issue" and that he would not accompany the Suns to Sacramento. The Suns will be back home in Phoenix on Thursday to host the Clippers.
The paper further reported that assistant coach Dan Majerle "stopped working with the team" once Hunter was named coach and that fellow assistant Elston Turner, seen as one of the candidates to take over for Gentry, hasn't attended practices since Hunter took over. Turner's future with the organization reportedly remains "undecided."
We noted Sunday that it was an unorthodox decision to go with Hunter over Turner, given the latter's coaching experience, but it's easy to see where Blanks is coming from. Going with a young former player to help navigate the changing course of a much-delayed rebuilding effort is a logical goal.
Unfortunately, the only conclusion to draw from the immediate reaction to Blanks' decision is that he didn't have the credibility established among his troops to make this type of call. In some ways, this is even worse than the Pistons' "mutiny" against coach John Kuester because it extends into the coaching staff. Quitting on the spot and not showing up to practice is about as drastic as it can get for NBA coaches. That's the ultimate sign of philosophical differences and a major vote of no confidence in management.
We also noted on Sunday that the "only expectation" on Hunter this season is that "his locker room doesn't explode." Oof. Hunter's mission now is to ride out the short-term drama as best he can. The dysfunction in the desert is clearly bigger than his appointment. While there appears to be some resentment and a lot of questions internally over the move, the coaching change has been made and everyone will accept it, eventually. Again, the only desired outcome from the rest of the Suns' season is player development. Veterans like the 34-year-old O'Neal, who is averaging 6.4 points and 4.1 rebounds off the bench, are sure to be upset with that reality because it comes at their expense. Reality will sink in, for veterans and youngsters alike, soon enough. The Suns' mish-mashed roster has had fundamental problems all season and Blanks bears the responsibility for that. It's now his job to start shipping out the veterans pieces he accumulated for no good reason, especially those who are unwilling to be patient down the stretch. After a few years spent haphazardly accumulating junk parts, it's simply housecleaning time. If Blanks is unable or unwilling to enter demolition mode, and quickly, he's setting up Hunter for a painful few months of failure and he's exposing his own position to some serious questions from ownership.