Writers' Roundtable (cont.)
3. Phoenix continues to tinker, the latest example being the acquisition of Jason Richardson. What's your assessment of Steve Kerr's makeover of the Suns since taking over as general manager before last season?
Thomsen: It all depends how you look at it. If you call this the kind of team he has been aiming to create, then of course his vision is hopeless. But that isn't fair because, in fact, the roster is still in transition. The Suns are on their way to becoming something different and altogether new.
Steve Kerr took over a team with a coach and star players who were far more established in their roles than Kerr was in his as a new GM. Everyone faces a steep learning curve in this job. I remember the rash moves made by Danny Ainge after he was hired to run the Celtics, and they are the kinds of decisions you don't see him making today. The Suns' window was closing when Kerr was hired, and he made a bold gamble by trading for Shaquille O'Neal in hopes of grabbing a championship before too late. Instead, that deal hastened a transition that so far has drawn in Mike D'Antoni as well as Raja Bell and Boris Diaw. And it isn't finished yet.
McCallum: Steve Kerr is having trouble defining exactly what his team's identity is. Run with Steve Nash? Walk it up and dish to Shaquille O'Neal? Let Amaré Stoudemire touch it 50 times a game? Perhaps Kerr's acquisition of Richardson will once and for all stamp the Suns as a get-up-and-go team ... as long as coach Terry Porter buys into it.
Mannix: I'm not a fan of what Steve Kerr has done in Phoenix. He effectively pulled the plug on a wildly successful open-court offense when he traded hyperkinetic forward Shawn Marion for the lumbering Shaquille O'Neal last February. He alienated the core of the team when he allowed the popular Mike D'Antoni to walk away after last season. The more conventional style of his handpicked replacement, Terry Porter, has prompted grumbling from several players.
The acquisition of Jason Richardson, an athletic scorer who should fit in nicely next to Steve Nash, and Jared Dudley, a versatile forward capable of playing multiple positions, should give the Suns a boost, but they are light years away from being considered contenders. That's a big concern when you consider that the franchise's cornerstones, Nash and Amaré Stoudemire, can walk away after next season.
Aschburner: Steve Kerr is a bright guy and he's so self-effacing that he tends to beat you to any criticism. But Phoenix appears to be mired in some one-step-forward, half-step-back time warp. Acquiring Jason Richardson was a move for points and faster pace, two things the Suns had pushed down their priority list. Boris Diaw, whose breakthrough season (2005-06) is looking more like Brady Anderson's 50-home run fluke, was due to go, but if Raja Bell isn't going to be your individual lockdown defender, a la Bruce Bowen, James Posey or Ron Artest, come playoff time, who is? Enough fiddling and fussing already. Kerr needs to let this group seek its level and accept the fact that this season, rise or fall, is on him.
4. The NBA has had six coaching changes since the start of the season. What gains can a bad team expect to make by firing a coach?
Thomsen: Some of these teams -- Oklahoma City, Minnesota and now Sacramento, who happen to occupy the bottom of the West -- had no chance of making the playoffs, but wanted to provide a new voice to their young players in hopes of staving off bad habits and attitudes. The Wizards, Raptors and 76ers viewed themselves as playoff teams and were anxious to stop the early-season decline. But none of these teams hired a replacement with the experience of Hubie Brown, who knew how to reorganize and inspire the Grizzlies when he was hired by Jerry West years ago. So all six of these teams are basically in limbo, which is to say that none should be expecting dramatic improvement.
McCallum: In most of these cases, management is simply trying to solidify the fan base, providing the perception that Hey, we're doing something! Also, firing a coach has saved many a general manager his job.
Mannix: I asked a few NBA front-office officials this same question and they all had the same answer: You have to look at it in a case-by-case basis. So, let's do that.
Philadelphia: GM Ed Stefanski hopes Tony DiLeo, who has limited coaching experience but shares Stefanski's up-tempo philosophy, will find a way to make the Sixers a consistent running team.
Washington: The Wizards (believe it or not) have yet to abandon their hopes of making the playoffs. Ed Tapscott told me that he and GM Ernie Grunfeld are hoping that by making defense a priority, the Wizards will be able to salvage the season.
Minnesota: The conventional wisdom is that Kevin McHale is in a sink-or-swim situation: He has to find a way to win this season or start updating his résumé. That's very possible. But if Minnesota shows signs of improvement, owner Glen Taylor wants this to be the first of hopefully many seasons with McHale on the bench. In many ways, the rest of this season will be about evaluating McHale as a coach.
Oklahoma City: The Thunder were bad with P.J. Carlesimo. They will continue to be bad under Scott Brooks. I get the impression that GM Sam Presti isn't overly concerned about winning this season as long as Brooks gives the young core the opportunity to develop.
Sacramento: See Oklahoma City. The young Kings are a non-factor in this year's playoff race. GM Geoff Petrie needs to evaluate a team that hasn't tuned out its coach.
Toronto: Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo told me that he loved Jay Triano's offensive philosophies. Colangelo will use the last five months of the season to see if Triano has the makeup to be an NBA coach. Of all the interim coaches, Triano probably stands the best chance to keep the job.
Aschburner: My sense is that any bump at the box office is brief and largely dependent on a) the sizzle of whoever takes over, and b) tangible improvement on the floor and in the standings. Since we're usually talking about assistant coaches' getting more responsibility, the first of those conditions tends to be minor. And bad teams rarely are transformed overnight, so the second one is iffy as well. That leaves the stuff that is fuzzier, more vague, like better communication and chemistry within the ranks; the opportunity for a recently hired general manager to handpick his own guy; an owner, not bound by a salary cap for coaches, feeling like he is doing something, anything, to make a difference; and a stripping-away of one excuse for a team's underachievement, allowing any subsequent moves to focus on the roster. It's just too bad coaches often fall first, because last we looked, Red Auerbach, Chuck Daly and John Kundla weren't going to be walking through that door anytime soon.
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