NEW YORK — Phoenix head coach Alvin Gentry strolled into the visitor’s locker room at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night, surveyed the crowd of reporters waiting to talk about Steve Nash, laughed and said, “I’m glad I’m not 4-9 in this town.” He’s 5-9 now after beating a flailing Knicks team, and before that win, he sat down with SI.com to talk Nash’s play, the endless trade talk and other issues facing the Suns.
SI.com: Nash is on pace to have the highest assist rate in league history. You guys run very few isolations, compared to the rest of the league. I wonder: Is there such a thing as too much passing? Too much unselfishness? Do you guys need a second perimeter guy who can just put his head down and create? Does that even make sense?
Gentry: It does. I think what happens with us, we’re so dependent on Steve that over the course of the season, it wears him down. That’s just reality. He’s always in perfect shape fitness-wise, cardio-wise, but we ask a lot of him. We ask him to create plays for other guys. We ask him to score. So, yeah, we could definitely use a guy we could point to in an isolation situation that could either get us a basket or get us to the foul line — a Carmelo Anthony type.
SI.com: Well, everyone wants one of those guys.
Gentry: I was gonna say — obviously not to that degree, because there’s only a couple of them that exist like that.
SI.com: I look at someone like Vince Carter — he’s a punching bag around the league, but he’s helping Dallas for this exact reason.
Gentry: Yeah, and he made that big shot for them [against Oklahoma City]. Something similar to that, I would say — we could always use a guy that we could throw it to that could get you in the bonus, because we’re a good free throw shooting team, and number two, get you a basket so we don’t have to work so hard to create a shot.
SI.com: Is there anyone on the roster that could grow into that role? Shannon Brown, maybe?
Gentry: Well, he’s making strides in that department, but he’s all new to our system. But we need a young, athletic guy that can do that.
SI.com: Back to Nash: Please say something bad about him. Everyone loves him. Everyone wants to see him win. He’s always in great shape. He’s loyal to Phoenix. There must be something bad about him. Does he take people’s parking spots? Steal food from the communal fridge? Something?
Gentry: I wish I could say there was something bad about him! But he’s probably tried as hard defensively this year as he ever has. He always gives you effort defensively. He’s one of the smartest players I’ve ever coached, and one of the most competitive players I’ve ever coached. He could have easily just decided this year, “I don’t want to be here. I want to be somewhere else.” But that’s not in his nature. He could have easily done what some of the other guys in this league do and demand a trade, but that’s not who he is.
The baddest thing about him is that the guy eats way, way, way too healthy. We gotta get some of those greasy hamburgers inside him, though I think his whole body would shut down if we did.
SI.com: Have you and Steve ever had a direct conversation about whether he would like to be traded?
Gentry: The media brings it up. It has never been an issue with him. I said to him when we were talking once that if it ever got the point where he thought he would be better off somewhere else, if he asked me, I’ll go ahead and tell management to do something. But he has not said anything like that.
SI.com: You mentioned his defense earlier. The conventional wisdom is that he’s a bad defensive player — a liability who isn’t very long for his position and can’t keep guys in front of him. It’s interesting — some of those advanced stats databases, like Synergy Sports, actually grade him out as decent for his position. Something must be going on there, right?
Gentry: First of all, he’s in the right place all the time. And the thing that I think is the most disturbing to me is that everybody talks about him not being able to keep Derrick Rose or Chris Paul or Deron Williams in front of him, and the last time I checked, nobody else can do that either. So I don’t understand why it’s a negative with him.
And the last time I checked, those guys probably aren’t doing a very good job on [Nash]. He led the league in assists last year. I just don’t understand it. The standards are set higher for him than they are for other guys. He’s always been able to get by anybody in the league, and he still can.
SI.com: It sounds like based on remarks today and elsewhere that you are pleased overall with your team’s defense.
Gentry: I am. I think what happens with us, is that I’m pleased with the defense, except I’m not pleased with us not completing the play. You gotta come up with the rebound, and that’s where we’ve struggled some. We can’t afford to have a team shoot 42 percent against us and then win a game because they’ve got 19 offensive rebounds.
SI.com: You guys do rank near the bottom in defensive rebounding rate. When you look at the film, do you see anything that explains why you’ve struggled there?
Gentry: We’ve got to do a better job making contact before we go to pursue the ball. The thing we talk about is that you’ve got to rebound outside the block/charge circle. We’re getting pushed underneath, and that’s caused any rebound that’s not falling straight down — we have a tough time securing it. You have to be outside the charge circle to be a good rebounder.
SI.com: Does it fall on the wings and guards, too? Your bigs actually have pretty good rebounding numbers, but most of the wing players are having down years in that regard.
Gentry: We have to do that. We have to have our wings rebound more. Our big guys have done a good job, as you said. Our perimeter guys have to do a better job. Even against the Lakers, we did a good job overall, but Luke Walton ended up with five offensive rebounds, and that’s something we have to eliminate. If you do a pretty good job on Pau Gasol, a pretty good job on Andrew Bynum, we can’t have a perimeter guy be their leading offensive rebounder.
SI.com: How has your practice schedule been?
Gentry: We have no practice time.
SI.com: Just none?
Gentry: Just none. We’ve practiced once in the last two weeks, because we’ve got Steve and we’ve got Grant [Hill], and we can’t have them play 35 minutes a night, go to Boston tomorrow and have a practice after playing back-to-backs. It just hasn’t really worked out. We’ll have our first practice in a long while Dallas in four days.
SI.com: I was talking to Spencer Hawes the other day, and he mentioned Doug Collins had the Sixers do yoga together as a way of maybe keeping everyone’s minds and bodies fresh. You trying any new, out of the box strategies like that?
Gentry: I’ve thought about that. As a matter of fact, Julie Fie’s [the Suns' vice president of basketball communications] sister is a great yoga teacher, and that’s something I’m considering.
SI.com: Hill’s numbers are down, including his rebounding numbers — something we mentioned before. What’s going on?
Gentry: I think his body is OK. I think what has happened with him is that had the knee surgery [on his right knee, in September], and he never had enough time to fully recover. He’s really still in the recovery stage. He was better the other night in Chicago than he’s been, so we’ll just have to keep monitoring it and see where he gets to. It’s tough — two preseason games, a week of practice, and then, boom, we’re playing.
SI.com: I was talking a few days ago with another writer who mentioned it sort of irked him Hill never really became a three-point shooter. And then I thought about it during a game when Nash kicked to him behind the three-point line out of a pick-and-roll, and Hill took one dribble in before shooting a long two. Fans always talk about player development like this, as if it’s just a matter of practicing to pick up any new skill. Is it fair?
Gentry: It’s just not his game. Rather than force the issue, I think he’s been a really smart player and really efficient in what he’s done over the last five or six seasons. I think where people have a misunderstanding of what we’re trying to do here, is that it doesn’t have to be a three-point shot. It just has to be that you’re spaced into an area where you’re very efficient.
SI.com: Last one: Fans and pundits are always frustrated with Hakim Warrick’s inconsistency. What does he have to do to be a reliable NBA player?
Gentry: No. 1: He has to get stronger. He doesn’t have to get bigger, or be this huge muscular guy, but I think he has to get stronger, so he’s got a base. And then I think he’s just got to get meaner — just a little bit meaner. He’s a great team guy, he work his butt off, but he has to be bigger than 204 pounds to play power forward.