Ever since Phoenix whipped San Antonio in the Western Conference semifinals, a few variations on this topic have been out there in the ether: What does the success of Suns coach
In other words, because Gentry has been so successful at getting this undervalued team to the conference finals, there must've been something flawed in D'Antoni's approach. That is based somewhat on the belief (false) that D'Antoni's teams were structurally superior to this one, but it's more about how things work today in this zero-sum media game: If somebody does well, then someone else must suck.
The fact is, Phoenix was remarkably successful under D'Antoni, winning an average of 58 games in his four full seasons and reaching the Western finals twice. Even if you lay most of the blame at D'Antoni's feet for the divorce that led to his resignation and move to the Knicks after the 2007-08 season -- and that's a complicated story -- D'Antoni's tenure at Phoenix, as a whole, has to be labeled a success.
That Gentry has reached the conference finals in just 1½ seasons means this: He can coach. And nobody who knows him ever doubted it.
Still, the comparison with the previous regime, of which Gentry was a major part, won't go away. Praise Gentry and you sound like you're demeaning D'Antoni, who did everything but get to the NBA Finals, something he has in common with a few hundred other coaches who have passed through this meat grinder of a league. Talk about the Suns' outstanding chemistry -- while group outings are rare when NBA teams are home, almost every member of the Suns went together to see
"Alvin has empowered the bench," Nash continued. "He's given guys confidence who haven't been NBA contributors before, and that gives us more depth and more bullets in the chamber. That means more opportunities for someone to make a difference on any given night.
"Alvin has simplified our defense, erasing confusion, building cohesion and making clear not only what our roles are but what's expected of us. That allows for the all-important accountability to be met and also policed. And he will let us know without hesitation when we're not meeting our standards.
"On top of that, we all like him and trust him."
(The extraordinary aspect of that message is not its detail and thoughtfulness; it's that Nash texted it without any errors, unless you count his going with the Canadian spelling of
Gentry winces when he hears D'Antoni's name conjured up, too. "I've always believed that what you do as a coach is take a lot of stuff from everybody you work for and add a few things of your own," Gentry said. "Mike is responsible for many of the things we do here, particularly offensively, and I've said that from the time I took over. If somebody's a good coach, they're a good coach, and Mike D'Antoni is a helluva coach. I'd be crazy not to take something from him."
D'Antoni, for his part, is honest enough to admit that, yes, it hurts that he's been sitting home since the conclusion of the Knicks' disappointing 29-53 season while his former team is getting ready for the Lakers. (Game 1 is Monday in Los Angeles.) But he feels nothing but happiness for Gentry, whom he tried to get to follow him to New York and with whom he talks regularly.
"Alvin's greatest strength is that he's a communicator," D'Antoni said. "Now, when you say that, everybody assumes you're saying he can't coach, that he doesn't know his X's and O's. That's not the case at all. It's just that Alvin has an extraordinary ability to get across to players what he's trying to do. And he knows what he's doing."
During the season (2005-06) that I spent traveling with the Suns
At the same time, Gentry had a relationship with every roster player. He was usually the one who would guide a player in need of counsel to the metaphorical couch. He didn't do it because that's the only thing he can do; he did it because it's one of the things he does well. It is widely assumed that Gentry has gotten more out of
Nash's last point --
Now, get up the
This coach-and-team chemistry thing is never easy to figure out. One day it's there, the next day it's not.
All I know is that for four seasons there wasn't a better coach for the Phoenix Suns than Mike D'Antoni.
And right now there's not a better coach for the Phoenix Suns than Alvin Gentry.