Continuing the series that I began last week, I will be providing a review and analysis of several head coaching candidates as well as providing my opinion of how they would fit in Denver. Today's breakdown is on Alvin Gentry.
Gentry began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at the University of Colorado in 1978 and after a short stint at Baylor, he became a full time assistant at CU for five years. He left CU for the University of Kansas where he went on to win a national title as an assistant under Larry Brown.
The following year he followed Brown to the NBA as Brown’s assistant on the Spurs’ coaching staff alongside future coach Greg Popovich and future general manager R.C. Buford. Gentry bounced around the league as an assistant for a few years before rejoining Popovich in San Antonio in 1999. However, the reunion only lasted a summer because Gentry was offered the head coaching position with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Coach's Resume: Mark Jackson
Part 2 of a series on head coaching candidates for the Denver Nuggets. A close look at how Mark Jackson might fare as the Nuggets next head coach.
As with any coach of the Donald Sterling era Clippers it is difficult to gauge Gentry’s impact during his years at the helm. The team won 31 and 39 games in his two full seasons on the bench but was fired midway through his 3rd season in 2003. That summer he joined Mike D’Antoni’s staff with the Phoenix Suns where he was an assistant for the next five seasons. In 2009, after the firing of D’Antoni and then later Terry Porter, Gentry took over on an interim basis. That summer he was given the head coaching job and led the Suns to 54 wins and a trip to the Western Conference finals.
He coached Phoenix for two more seasons as head coach although failed to find success as the team found their roster greatly diminished by injuries and the loss of Amare Stoudemire in free agency. In 2013 he became Doc Rivers’ lead assistant on the Clippers coaching staff where he was put in charge of designing the offense system which would go on to lead the league in offensive rating. In 2014 he joined Steve Kerr in Golden State as the lead assistant and was once again put in charge of helping revamp the team’s offense. In one season in Golden State he has helped turn an average offense into an offensive juggernaut that leads the league in points per game, 3FG%, eFG% and TS%.
Gentry isn’t the product of a lone coaching tree but rather has experience under some of the most brilliant basketball minds in NBA history. From Larry Brown, to Greg Popovich, to Mike D’Antoni, to Doc Rivers, Gentry has learned from and worked with some of the very best.
As the head coach of the Suns, Gentry’s style most closely resembled D’Antoni’s. The Suns shot slightly fewer 3’s and played at a slightly slower pace although in both categories they were toward the top of the league ranking. The Suns’ offensive rating of 115.3 in 2009-10 was the highest in the Steve Nash era and the 4th highest ORtg in league history. It would be somewhat accurate (although incomplete) to say that Gentry’s style in Phoenix was a somewhat watered down version of D’Antoni’s system.
It is a bit more difficult to gauge Gentry’s impact as a coach over the last two seasons since he has been an assistant, but both the Clippers and the Warriors have improved offensively with him on the sideline. Clippers coach Doc Rivers suggested that the idea behind the team’s revamped offense in 2013 was an emphasis on movement. "Every team talks about running. We want to be a running team. But for us, we really want to be a motion team," Rivers told reporters in a press conference during training camp in 2013. "We want to be a team that's in constant motion, constant movement, so it's very difficult to load up on us."
While the Clippers showed an improvement in their half court movement, this year’s Warriors have nearly perfected it. Coming into the season, Gentry said that the team had put an emphasis on "ball movement and people movement." The confluence of D’Antoni’s fast pace and high pick and roll action seems to have perfectly merged with Greg Popovich’s court balance and lightening fast player and ball movement forming one of the most deadly and entertaining offenses the league has ever seen. In the clip below, notice how all five guys are involved on every possession, how the ball moves, and how much the players remain in nearly constant motion.
Gentry’s resume is as impressive and as complete as anyone of the candidates I will cover. He has three decades of coaching experience, mostly as an assistant under a wide variety of circumstances and styles. Gentry would be a coach that could come in and win right away, assuming Tim Connelley could give him a roster that was ready to compete.
His up-tempo style of basketball, especially on the offensive end, is exactly what Nuggets fans have been clamoring for, even if it isn’t as extreme as D’Antoni’s. In some ways, his ideal offense would be more entertaining than D'Antoni's since it involves a certain half court pace. His experience in Golden State, being surrounded by great basketball minds like Steve Kerr, Jerry West and Ron Adams seems to have given him a fresh new perspective that he is certain to bring with him if he is brought in by Josh Kroenke to lead the Nuggets.
Gentry’s track record suggests that his system needs a dynamic point guard in order to operate properly. In Phoenix he had Nash. With the Clippers he had Chris Paul. In Golden State he has Steph Curry. I am a big fan of Ty Lawson but it isn’t an insult to say that he is a tier below those three. The Nuggets roster as a whole isn’t currently in position to run the type of offense that the Warriors run. Kenneth Faried and Draymond Green are virtually opposites of each other. Additionally, the 2010 Suns, 2013 Clippers and 2014 Warriors all have incredible depth with skilled passers and playmakers at all positions. It's nice to say that Gentry has a great offensive plan but perhaps the most important characteristic is that it requires a very talented team to execute it.
There is also the issue of Gentry’s age. At 60 years old, he isn’t exactly a spring chicken. 60 isn’t too old by any means but he is old enough that he likely won’t see a Popovich-like two decade run with the Nuggets. Lastly, there is the fear that Gentry might be a better assistant than a head coach. His experience as a head coach is in short stints spread out amongst decades so it is hard to say for certain but outside of 2009-10, his most impressive feats all come as the 2nd in command. His final two seasons in Phoenix were the very definition of average.
I like Gentry a lot. He seems like an extremely intelligent, experienced coach with a good sense of humor and a mild temperament. Anybody that is able to laugh off getting body slammed by a butt-naked Shaquille O’Neal must have a mild temperament. I have no doubt that he would be an excellent coach for the Nuggets and I imagine that he is probably among the leading candidates. Connelley and Kroenke will earn instant credit amongst the NBA community if they hire Gentry and in that regard he is both a safe pick and a pretty good one. His ceiling might be lower than someone young like Fred Hoiberg, but by all accounts he would be somebody that can hit the ground running.
Ultimately, I think Gentry would be a good head coach for the Denver Nuggets, assuming that the front office can create a competitive roster fairly quickly.