Commentary

Previous coaching experience pays off for Porter

Originally Published: May 15, 2008
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Terry Porter was granted the first interview for Mike D'Antoni's old job back on May 15.

Porter got the job 23 days later because of two additional advantages he had over pretty much everyone who followed him in the Phoenix Suns' coaching search.

No. 1: Porter was the only candidate who made it to the Suns' list of finalists with head coaching experience.

No. 2: Porter had more Steve Kerr experience than anyone Phoenix talked to.

The latter was indeed the clincher.

[+] EnlargeTerry Porter
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesTerry Porter will try to get the Suns to play better defensively.
Confident as the Suns are about their choice, they obviously can't guarantee that Porter -- having lasted a mere two seasons as head coach in Milwaukee and fresh off a two-season run as an assistant coach in Detroit after being fired by the Bucks -- is the coach who can develop the team of Kerr's ambitious dreams. A team, namely, that plays tangibly good defense without losing its push-the-pace identity.

Yet Kerr is sure that he and Porter, good friends and former San Antonio teammates, will be on the same page from here, along with Suns owner Robert Sarver.

After the roller-coaster season the Suns just had and the sudden demise of the D'Antoni Era, sources with knowledge of the team's thinking say Kerr sees that as an absolute must.

Kerr's first full season as Suns team president, remember, was a wild one. It will be remembered for his stunning gamble to trade for Shaquille O'Neal in February, followed by another painful playoff exit to San Antonio after Shaq had sparked Phoenix to two regular-season wins over the Spurs, followed by the final unraveling of Sarver and Kerr's hot-and-cold relationship with D'Antoni.

Phoenix management quickly concluded that keeping the team among the Western Conference elite was going to be tough enough even if it landed the ideal replacement for D'Antoni, given the Suns' limited trade assets and financial flexibility to add youth and/or depth to their Steve Nash-Amare Stoudemire-Shaq core. So Kerr definitely didn't want to go forward without some synergy that extends from the front office to the coaches' office.

It doesn't hurt that Porter has a good résumé, too. He was picked for two All-Star games and went to the NBA Finals twice as a player, which can only help him in the locker room respect game. His reputation as a coach on the rise, furthermore, was not necessarily dented by his short stay in Milwaukee, because it's well-known in league circles that Porter was fired after the 2004-05 season after the Bucks won the draft lottery, which had Bucks owner Herb Kohl believing he could land a more established coaching name. Porter was dismissed after the team had publicly announced he'd be retained, only for the Bucks to get turned down by Flip Saunders and Doug Collins before they drafted Andrew Bogut with the No. 1 overall pick. Milwaukee wound up replacing Porter with Kohl favorite Terry Stotts.

Porter, though, will have much to prove. He has to quickly win over a largely veteran team as well as replace the most successful coach in franchise history in D'Antoni, whose famed Seven Seconds Or Less system was widely seen as the perfect fit for Nash.

There will be questions, too, about Porter reaching O'Neal, given the belief that Shaq, at this stage of his career, only responds to superstar coaches such as Phil Jackson and Pat Riley … and only for a time even with coaches on that level. The questions will get even louder when it comes to the reaction of Stoudemire, who has undoubtedly heard for weeks that the Suns were looking for someone who would hold him more accountable than D'Antoni did. "He has to accept coaching," Kerr said recently.

One more question: Should the Suns be concerned that the Pistons see Michael Curry -- not Porter -- as the assistant best-suited to succeed Flip Saunders?

Kerr insists that he's not concerned. He regards Porter as a proven leader and communicator who will be a far better coach in Phoenix than he was in Milwaukee, armed with a more accomplished roster and a successful stint with the defense-first Pistons.

Porter is the guy, Kerr contends, who has the diverse background -- having coached under Saunders and Rick Adelman and having played for the likes of Riley and Gregg Popovich -- to "help us achieve the balance we feel we need" when it comes to improving the Suns' much-maligned D.

Kerr told the team's Web site Saturday: "He's a guy who is committed to up-tempo basketball, which was important to us. But he's also very experienced when it comes to defense, both from his time with the Pistons and as a player."

You likewise can't ignore what Kerr wrote in a 2003 column he wrote for Yahoo! Sports. Predicting big things for Porter, Kerr lauded his coaching potential and called him "one of the best people I've ever met in the league."

Two more reasons why the Suns' first interviewee is their last man standing.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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