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Interim coach Gentry to push running game

Alvin Gentry (right) is introduced as the Phoenix Suns interim coach by general manager Steve Kerr on Monday in Phoenix.

Alvin Gentry (right) is introduced as the Phoenix Suns interim coach by general manager Steve Kerr on Monday in Phoenix.

PHOENIX – Terry Porter and ex-Arizona Wildcat Steve Kerr had a friendship dating back to their days as teammates.

Porter has two more seasons of guaranteed salary for about $4 million beyond what remained of this season.

Porter was Kerr’s first coaching hire only eight months ago.

All of that and the expressions on Kerr’s face Monday afternoon displayed how hard it was for Kerr to go to Porter’s house Sunday night to fire him with the Suns at 28-23, and in position for the draft lottery rather than the playoffs.

It also shows Kerr is trying to rectify a wrong by making Alvin Gentry the Suns’ interim head coach to salvage a star-studded team’s disappointing season.

“We can still make this a very successful season,” Kerr said. “This is a move we had to make in order to give our team the best chance for success. Alvin is clearly the best guy to give us a chance at success going forward. He knows this team better than anybody.”

Gentry was Porter’s lead assistant and was the only carry-over from Mike D’Antoni’s staff of the previous four seasons, when the Suns won more games than during any other four-year span of the franchise’s history.

Gentry called his third turn as an interim NBA head coach “a bittersweet thing” because of his friendship with Porter.

“But I do know it’s time to move on and try to do the best we can,” Gentry said. “We are who we are. I think we have to go back to trying to establish a breakneck pace like we’ve had in the past.

“We have to open more lanes for Steve (Nash). He’s the best at what he does in the business and then we’ve got to get Amaré (Stoudemire) and Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal) and those guys still involved.”

Gentry, with mantras resembling D’Antoni’s, said the Feb. 8 victory at Detroit would be a template for the way the Suns ran the ball. In that game, Nash was a 21-assist playmaker, but the Suns still got a 20-point, 10-rebound game from O’Neal that helped get the Suns into bonus free-throw shooting early in the game.

That game was a beacon of light in the dark of a prebreak stretch that saw the Suns lose 10 of 16 games, seven of the losses by double digits and four against losing teams.

“Ultimately, I’m accountable for the decision to bring Terry in and I’m still comfortable that we did a lot of research and I’m still comfortable that he could’ve been the right guy,” Kerr said.

Now the Suns are seeking a consistency in performance and effort that never was there for Porter, even when the team was winning.

The Suns have not won more than three games in a row this season after having seven- and eight-game winning streaks last season and streaks of 11, 15 and 17 in the previous two seasons.

Gentry, who is popular with the players, said he has never seen a coach work as hard as Porter, and he and Kerr noted the players’ responsibility for the team’s standing.

“I like the team we have,” said Gentry, who said he wonders if the team is well-conditioned enough to run like it has in years past.

“We just have to develop some consistency. Everybody has to take ownership of that. We have enough talent that we should not be on the outside looking in for a playoff spot.”

Kerr said no decision was made on Porter’s firing until Sunday.

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