Despite coach’s modesty, Suns are Gentry’s team
AP Sports Writer
PHOENIX (AP) – Alvin Gentry jokes that when he’s ticked off at Steve Nash, he yells at Lou Amundson.
In truth, the Phoenix coach has held every player accountable while at the same time, as Grant Hill puts it, “he’s empowered us.”
Gentry deflects the credit for the Suns highly unexpected run to the Western Conference finals. His players would beg to differ. From its vastly improved defense to its undeniable chemistry, this is Gentry’s team.
“I’ve played for some pretty good coaches,” Amare Stoudemire said, “but Alvin Gentry, he’s definitely on top.”
Channing Frye, whose dormant NBA career blossomed as one of the Suns’ top 3-point shooting threats, called Gentry “an honest coach.”
“He gives it to you straight up,” Frye said. “He allows you to just grow, he instills confidence, and those things really make up who we are. Without him, we wouldn’t be where we are right now.”
With a ready sense of humor and a friendliness that stems from his North Carolina roots, Gentry has been able to demand the best from his players without offending them, Frye said.
“He just doesn’t let you play beneath what he thinks you can,” Frye said. “He constantly puts pressure on you but in a way that’s almost endearing, almost like ‘I know you’re better than that’ or ‘You know you’re better than that’ and ‘C’mon now, we need you.’ … Everything is positive and I think that’s something that’s been missing a lot in the NBA.”
Gentry, who has spent 30 of his 55 years in coaching, said that everything he has become is the result of the influence of his father G.H. Gentry, who died last year at 89.
“My dad has always been my hero. I don’t have sports heroes,” Gentry said. “My dad is a guy that worked all his life as a factory worker. He just did the right thing. He treated people the right way. He always said ‘Treat people the way you want to be treated.’ I can’t tell you one person that disliked my dad.”
Bursts of temper on the sidelines aside, Gentry said he has tried to be cordial with everyone.
“Maybe good guys finish last,” he said, “but I’d rather be a good guy and finish last than be a jerk. I really would.”
The Suns were expected to struggle to even make the playoffs.
But the team caught fire after the All-Star break to finish as the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. Phoenix and the reigning NBA champion Lakers play Game 1 of the conference finals Monday night in Los Angeles.
When Gentry took over after Terry Porter was fired at the 2009 All-Star break, it was the third time he’d replaced an ousted coach. He took over for Kevin Loughery with Miami in 1995 and for Doug Collins in Detroit in 1998. He spent 2 1/2 years with the Los Angeles Clippers before he was fired halfway through the 2002-03 season.
Gentry joined the Suns as an assistant coach when Mike D’Antoni was hired in 2004 and stayed on when D’Antoni left for the New York Knicks five years later.
Gentry had vowed that if he ever got another chance to be a head coach, he would do it his way.
“The one thing I said to these guys is that I’ve got to be able to yell at Amare and yell at Steve,” Gentry said. “If they’re not doing the right thing I’ve got to jump those guys just like I jump Lou Amundson or any of those guys.”
But Gentry doesn’t treat every player the same.
“He knows sort of what buttons to push, how to get the most out of different guys,” Hill said. “Everybody’s different. Everybody’s personality is different and I think Alvin’s taken the time to get to know you to be able to motivate, inspire and get the most out of every guy.”
The Suns under Gentry are not the speedy “7 seconds or less” teams that D’Antoni coached. This team still led the NBA in scoring, but with a rhythm offense that relies on ball movement, the pick-and-roll of Nash and Stoudemire and a seemingly endless array of 3-point shooters.
Phoenix even plays defense, not great maybe, but a whole lot better than Suns teams of the recent past.
“Contrary to popular belief, we actually wanted to play defense,” Hill said. “I think people thought we didn’t want to play. We just needed somebody who could teach us.”
Gentry, Hill said, simplified the defense and devoted regular practice time to it.
“Every day we worked on it. I think it’s a mutual thing,” Hill said. “Alvin will tell you, it’s not going to work if guys don’t buy in. Guys wanted to. I think people in the past and some of the coaches we had in the past just accepted the fact that we couldn’t play defense. Alvin wouldn’t accept that.”
Gentry is 80-43 as Phoenix coach. Going into the Lakers series, the Suns have won 22 of their last 26, including six straight playoff games.
“Alvin deserves tons of credit,” Nash said. “He’s been phenomenal this year. We’ve really improved under him and that’s all you can ask from a coach. … He lets us know what’s expected of us. He tells us the truth when we’re not playing well, when we make mistakes. Guys want to be coached. Everyone really enjoys playing for him.”
Gentry shrugs off any praise.
“I’m paid to coach the team. That’s what I’m supposed to do,” he said. “I’m supposed to put guys in a position to win games. I’m supposed to do my job.”