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Alvin Gentry gone, but he wasn’t the problem

At the midway point of the 2012-13 season, the Phoenix Suns are 13-28, bad enough to be the worst team in the Western Conference.

You know the old adage — you can’t fire all the players, so Friday, head coach Alvin Gentry was made the scapegoat for the team’s failings and was fired.

Let’s face reality, though. Red Auerbach, Phil Jackson or Pat Riley wouldn’t win with the collection of players the Suns have on this roster.

Phoenix’s front office of president of basketball operations Lon Babby and general manager Lance Blanks tried to put together a roster of players to keep the Suns competitive for a playoff spot. But bringing in free agents Michael Beasley, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and Jermaine O’Neal, trading for Wes Johnson and drafting Kendall Marshall has failed to pay any dividends in the standings.

The writing on the wall for Gentry’s firing was etched in 2010 when, coming off a trip to the Western Conference Finals, they opted not to re-sign Amar’e Stoudemire, instead working out a sign-and-trade deal with the New York Knicks. That wasn’t the wrong move. What followed was wrong.

Phoenix held on to veteran fan favorites Steve Nash and Grant Hill for two more seasons, hoping to stay competitive. The team missed the playoffs both seasons and a much-needed facelift started at least two years late.

Last offseason, the lingering Shakesperean question around the organization was “to tank, or not tank”. The thought behind tanking was that to be a really good NBA team, you’d have to stink out loud for two years to gain high draft picks, like the Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder were able to do. That organization missed the playoffs for four straight seasons from 2005 to 2009 but is now one of the premier franchises in the league thanks to hitting home runs on high draft picks Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka.

Suns brass shuddered at the thought of being irrelevant for a span of 24 months and assembled a roster they thought would keep them mediocre, err, I mean in contention for a playoff spot. The only problem is they forgot to add a player to the roster who can actually score the basketball.

Currently, the Suns leading scorer is Goran Dragic, who is averaging a meager 14.0 points per game — by far the lowest figure by a team leader in the entire league. There is no go-to option for the Suns, and that has translated to a lot of close losses.

Phoenix is 2-13 in its last 15 games. In 11 of those losses, the Suns had opportunities to win in the fourth quarter. In fact, Phoenix lost 10 of them by single digits; five by five points or less.

Gentry summed the situation up perfectly following his last game as the Suns’ bench boss — a 98-94 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks Thursday night at US Airways Center.

“We got the game to the point where we should have won. You are up 10 and you are at home, you got to find a way to win the game. That’s been the story of the whole season. We have not been able to do it.”

And that has almost nothing to do with Gentry. It’s hard to make an omelette when all you have is a fork, a lighter and some egg shells.

News has swirled that the Suns will go to a youth movement. Whomever the next head coach of the team is — Lindsey Hunter or Elston Turner or Dan Majerle — expect to see a steady diet of Marshall, Markieff Morris and Luke Zeller on the floor.

And expect an even steadier diet of more losing.

For Alvin Gentry, this is a blessing. He gets a reprieve from an untenable situation.

Suns fans aren’t so lucky.


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