PHOENIX (AP) — After a shaky transfer of coaching power, the staggering Phoenix Suns headed for Sacramento with Lindsey Hunter in charge on the bench and without two of the team's highest-profile assistant coaches.
It will be the debut of Hunter as interim coach, the first game he has coached of any kind. Hunter, brought in by general manager Lance Blanks a few months ago as player development director, replaces Alvin Gentry, who left last Friday in what the team described as a mutual parting of the ways.
Blanks chose Hunter over Suns assistants Dan Majerle and Elston Turner, among others. Neither Majerle nor Turner showed up for any of the practices since Hunter was hired. Majerle, a former Suns star player and one of the most popular sports figures in the Phoenix area, has let it be known he won't be back. Turner is a highly-respected assistant who has interviewed for at least four NBA head coaching jobs, including the one in Phoenix when Mike D'Antoni left for the New York Knicks. Turner almost certainly has left his Suns job for good, too.
After practice on Tuesday, Hunter said he wasn't sure of the status of Majerle and Turner but he certainly spoke as if he knew they wouldn't be rejoining the team.
"I understand their situation," Hunter said. "As an aspiring coach this is what you want to do in life and it's disappointing when you don't get an opportunity. I definitely understand and my heart goes out to both of those guys and I wish them the best in whatever they do next."
Igor Kokoskov, a Suns assistant who also was interviewed for the interim job, will be Hunter's lead assistant.
"He's more of the opposite of me. He's an offensive guy," Hunter said. "We need those guys, unfortunately, in basketball. You need an offensive guy. I'm a defensive guy. So it's sort of balanced."
Other than that, Hunter wasn't sure which of the remaining personnel would be on the bench as assistant coaches in Sacramento.
"We're just trying to get some stability and find out what's what," Hunter said, "and all of those things will be hashed out."
Phoenix also didn't have center Jermaine O'Neal in practice on Wednesday. Hunter said he didn't' know why, but that it was a medical condition. It's common knowledge that O'Neal didn't think much of the coaching change. But Tuesday night, O'Neal posted a tweet supporting Hunter.
"Lindsey Hunter is now our coach and we will do anything and everything to support him and try to turn this season around!" O'Neal wrote.
Hunter played in the NBA for 17 seasons before retiring in 2010. He was a finalist for the Orlando coaching job last year before Blanks brought him to Arizona. In announcing the hiring on Sunday, Blanks insisted that Hunter was not brought in with the idea of making him coach. Gentry's arrival with the Suns far preceded that of Blanks and president for basketball operation Lon Babby, the architects of what so far has been a less-than-successful start of the rebuilding process.
The Suns are at the bottom of the Western Conference at 13-28, their worst record halfway through a season in a quarter century. They have lost 13 of 15 and are just 2½ games ahead of Washington for the worst record in the NBA.
Now they face what Hunter called a "brutal" schedule.
Phoenix is home Thursday night against the Los Angeles Clippers, then is at San Antonio and Dallas this weekend.
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