While the NBA Playoffs are slowly, but surely winding down, the Utah Jazz coaching search is slowly but surely starting to gain more traction–at least through the media. A few names are being connected to the Utah Jazz in terms of actual interviews. Now whether or not these interviews have taken place or are on the docket remains to be confirmed. Still, when reputable sources like Adrian Wojnarowski and Marc Spears are linking potential candidates to the franchise, one starts to take note.
A few weeks ago, it was current Chicago Bulls assistant coach Adrian Griffin (here’s nice look at Griffin by fellow Salt City Hoops writer Ben Dowsett) and more recently, Alvin Gentry’s name has been linked to the Jazz.
Gentry is an interesting name and as is the case with all the candidates whose names have been floated, there are pros and cons. Let’s take a gander at both sides.
David J. Smith’s POV:
Gentry is a basketball lifer. He actually has a small Jazz connection, having played collegiate ball at Appalachian State University under Press Maravich, father of the great Pistol Pete. Upon graduation, he embarked on a basketball coaching career that has spanned over three decades.
Gentry has extensive experience as both a head coach and an assistant coach. In the latter capacity, he has spent time with five different teams (San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat, Detroit Pistons, Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns) and in four of those cases, he was eventually tabbed as either the interim coach or the head coach successor. The very fact that he has been asked four times to assume control of a team shows that he has always been respected by his employers for his coaching and basketball acumen. The same can be said for his citizenship and professionalism. One does not repeatedly get opportunities if he was not well thought of in basketball circles.
This is evidenced by the fact that he is also being mentioned as a candidate with the Clippers and the Cleveland Cavaliers, along with top assistant opportunities with Steve Kerr in Golden State and Mike Malone in Sacramento.
Gentry has coached alongside some truly well known coaches in Larry Brown, Gregg Popovich, Mike D’Antoni, and currently Doc Rivers. One of the things he’s adopted along the way is an exciting brand of offensively focused basketball. When he took over for the “seven seconds or less” D’Antoni, Gentry kept the emphasis on running a high octane team that put up big numbers. For example, during the 2009-2010 season–easily his best year as a coach (54-28 record)–the Suns lead the league in scoring (110.2 PPG), FGM (40.7 per game), FG% (49.2 percent) and 3-point percentage (41.2 percent). They also were in the top six in free throws, assists and rebounds. The next season saw some similar offensive output.
With the currently constructed roster, playing with more pace might play more to its strengths. Players such as Gordon Hayward have expressed a desire to run more as a team, so as to produce some easy baskets. Gentry could help make these things happen
Conversely, there are a lot of items that make him a curious name for the Utah opening. With the oft-mentioned focus on defense going forward, Gentry does not make the most sense. While his teams have been prolific offensively, they have traditionally lagged on the other end of the court. In 2010 and 2011, Phoenix gave up over 105 PPG. In 2011, it finished dead last by giving up 47.2% shooting. The team struggled defending the 3-point line, long a struggle for the Jazz. Dennis Lindsey has repeatedly mentioned the dramatic need to improve defensively if this team wants to one day compete for a championship. Given his resume, Gentry does not seem to be the one to help accomplish that goal.
While he has a lot of experience, his longest coaching tenure with one team was three full seasons with the Suns, as well as part of two others. His 335-370 (.475) career record does not instill a whole lot of confidence in the team’s long-term prospects. He has only led teams to the Playoffs twice in his 12 years coaching.
Gentry’s most successful teams have been veteran-led ones. How would he fare with developing the team’s young talent, yet another point of emphasis for the franchise.
He is a known commodity, for better or for worse. There is seemingly more appeal toward other candidates for that reason. Assistant coaches like Griffin, Quin Snyder, Mike Longabardi and so forth have intrigue because there is the potential to find the next hidden gem coach. The same applies to collegiate guys like Fred Hoiberg and former players like John Stockton and Earl Watson. There is risk with all of them, but because we do not know what they can do–as opposed to a guy like Gentry–there is that chance that Utah finds a keeper.
With all things considered, Gentry might do a decent job with the Jazz, but he does not appear to be the best overall candidate for the job.
Dan Clayton’s POV:
Gentry has a longer NBA head coaching résumé than anybody else who has been seriously mentioned in conjunction with the Jazz gig, but that might not work in his favor. He has sat in the big chair for all or part of 12 different seasons – 705 games in all – but only made two visits to the playoffs.
To be fair, personnel is a big part of the reason Gentry is a sub-.500 coach who has only made two postseason appearances (and has only been past the first round once). He hasn’t had a ton to work with.
First, he was the interim coach for a Miami team whose best player, Steve Smith, was hurt. The Heat were led that year by Glen Rice, Kevin Willis and Billy Owens, and they were competing in what was, at the time, a formidable Eastern Conference.
Then he presided over two partial seasons plus the lockout year for a transitioning Pistons team. When he took over in the middle of the 1997-98 campaign, Grant Hill was playing at an All-Star level, but Detroit didn’t have much else. The mercurial Bison Dele was Gentry’s second best guy that year. Over the next two seasons, they started to get more out of Jerry Stackhouse and Lindsey Hunter, but record-wise, they were running in mud, so they eventually moved on from Gentry 58 games into the ’99-00 season. The sum of his Pistons stint was a 73-72 record.
Then came his Clippers run, which almost speaks for itself. The Clips’ core when Gentry took over was (stop me when you’re impressed) Lamar Odom, Jeff McInnis, Eric Piatkowski, Darius Miles and Michel Olowokandi. They added Elton Brand the following year and started to give Corey Maggette a more prominent role, but were still stuck below 40 wins. Even the acquisition of Andre Miller the year after didn’t help LA improve, so at 19-39, they let Gentry go. Gentry was 89-133 with the PaperClips.
By far, his most successful stint was as the Suns’ head coach, but even there, he oversaw a time period when Phoenix was losing talent, not gaining it. The waning Shaq was Phoenix’ leading scorer in the season when Gentry took over for Terry Porter, but the Suns still had Steve Nash, Hill and an injured Amar’e Stoudemire. When Amar’e got healthy the following season, Gentry made his lone deep playoff run, falling in the conference finals after dominating the first two rounds.
But then Phoenix started to change directions. In place of Shaq and Amar’e were Marcin Gortat and Channing Frye, and predictably, the record started to backslide. After two .500-ish years, the Suns lost even their signature player. Without Nash, the Suns limped to a 13-28 start in 2012-13, and once again it was time for Gentry to go.
None of that is particularly encouraging. Sure, he hasn’t had a lot to work with, but his basic profile as a coach after 12 seasons is that he doesn’t really get his teams to the next level, whatever that level is. The Jazz could easily explain that away the same way I did – by pointing to names like Dele and McInnis to show that Gentry did OK for what he had in his arsenal. But it still doesn’t feel like a swing-for-the-fences pick.
And when you look at his basketball identity as a coach, the story gets even harder to sell, mostly on the defensive end. The last time he coached an above-average defensive team was in his third year as a head coach, the lockout year in Detroit. In each of his last six seasons at the helm, his teams finished 23rd or worst in defensive rating. Yikes.
That said, I get why he’s on the Jazz’s list. He’s a known name, and he’s reportedly a pretty smart guy. I’ll also add anecdotally, having read Seven Seconds or Less, that Gentry appears to have a great sense of humor and a knack for getting along with players.
But a career .475 record doesn’t really make my toes tingle, nor does the fact that he’s presided over three different teams that were stuck in between gears1.
If you care about things like coaching trees2, Gentry has worked with the likes of Gregg Popovich, Larry Brown and Mike D’Antoni.
If it were me, I’d have the conversation, but I’d be ready to look elsewhere.