So, Terry Porter is going to be fired. Fine. He was a questionable hire from the get-go; he was 0 for 1 as an NBA head coach after failing in Milwaukee, and Alvin Gentry seemed like the more logical choice. This season has been a disappointment for the Suns, who for the past four seasons had been a lock for 50 wins. Their offense looks tame, and Steve Nash has been open about his frustrations with the changes made to the coaching personnel and to the team's offense (backed by ex-teammate Boris Diaw), and Amar'e Stoudemire's game has suffered. The team is merely afloat in the Western Conference, at 28-23 and one game back of the 8th seed.
Stranger things have happened than a coach being fired midway through a disappointing season. Some would say, given the coaching carousel that has been this NBA season, Porter's firing comes too late. And Porter is not a good coach. The Suns look relatively stagnant and his locker room seems to be quietly dissolving. But if he deserves to be fired, what about the guy who hired him?
It's hard for me to understand why it goes ignored that Steve Kerr has done, and continues to do a pathetic job in Phoenix. Forget how quick Kerr is to pull the trigger on a new direction, and that he may deal Amare in order to retool just months after trying to savage a contender by trading for Jason Richardson. That's not the worst of it all.
It would perhaps be better if we worked backwards from Terry Porter's hiring. Frankly, the main qualification Porter seemed to have for taking over a regular playoff squad was that he and Kerr were pals. It was reported everywhere before he was even given an interview that because the two were friends, Porter would get consideration. There wasn't exactly a bunch of nobodies available for hire, either. Flip Saunders had just been dropped from Detroit. Larry Brown didn't have a gig. Avery Johnson may have lost control of his team, but he seemed like the defensive-minded coach Kerr sought for his team. Leaving the big names aside, Tom Thibodeau was the hottest assistant coach on the market, the mastermind behind the dominant defense that won Boston a championship with a core built overnight.
What did Terry Porter have over any of these guys? What did he have over Mike D'Antoni? Well, working backwards from the questionable hiring, why was D'Antoni fired? Irreparable strains in his relationship with Kerr was the obvious reason. Kerr had begun intervening in D'Antoni's coaching affairs, attempting to stress improvement in the half-court set and more emphasis on defense. He wanted the Suns designed to be able to beat the Spurs and Lakers, despite the fact that there was widespread sentiment that the Suns were, in fact, capable of beating anyone the West, and would have if not for a few questionable suspensions.
Whether or not D'Antoni backed the Shaq trade really does not matter. He and Kerr were clearly in a power struggle, and the coach who had delivered 55+ win seasons, Western Conference Finals appearances and the best offense the NBA had seen in decades was essentially ousted so that Kerr could implement his philosphy on how the Suns could take the next step in the West.
Now, 51 games later, Kerr's hands-on hands have deteriorated the franchise. The coach that designed their system is gone (and with it, most traces of their system), Amar'e's game has plummeted, along with Nash's. Both expire in two years, and it looks like Kerr will deal Amar'e rather than re-signing. So Nash's last year in Phoenix will be a waste, just like this one has been, because even if the Suns do make the playoffs, they probably won't take a game from the Lakers or Spurs.
That's quite a fast decline for a team that was a perennial contender with much of the same personnel, and it has all come at the hands of Kerr. He ran the coach and the system out of town, and with it, his star players' happiness. In place of the seven-seconds-or-less Suns, Kerr has assembled a team with scorers and no identity, an underperforming team soon to be without a coach, and the Suns are soon to join the rest of teams whose hopes for their franchises lay solely in the 2010 offseason. So when Terry Porter gets fired today, it couldn't hurt to take a look at who hired him--the mastermind behind the sudden decline of the Suns.