Redskins

Two top assistants leave in Suns coaching shakeup

Two top assistants leave in Suns coaching shakeup

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 2 1/2 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.

Next week, they are home against the Los Angeles Lakers in Steve Nash's first trip back to Phoenix since leaving the team. Then there's a home game against Dallas, followed by a road trip with stops in Golden State, Memphis, New Orleans and Oklahoma City.

Hunter wouldn't talk about lineup changes, but expect to see more of rookie point guard Kendall Marshall, the first-round draft pick who has struggled in his limited time on the court, both in shooting and on defense. Hunter was a special one-on-one project of Hunter in his player development role.

``I haven't in depth thought a lot about it,'' Hunter said. ``We have talked about it a lot as coaches.''

Hunter's three practices since his hiring have been longer than the ones Gentry ran.

``I think we cleared up a lot of uncertainties with the guys,'' Hunter said. ``I'm trying to narrow our play calls down so we can perfect some things. And trying to plant a seed to start growing an identity. We want to be tough. We want to be serious and disciplined. And it takes time. I realize that. I'm just proud how the guys have responded to me.

``I know these practices are a lot longer than they are accustomed to, but we've got a lot to get accomplished. Like I told them, I don't watch the clock. I just watch what they do, and we have to work until we can't forget what we're supposed to do, not until we get it. We have to work until we can't forget it.''

Center Marcin Gortat said he liked the changes he's seen so far, saying the structure and discipline remind him of what he had in Orlando with San Van Gundy.

Suns guard-forward Jared Dudley acknowledged it's been a whirlwind and players are just trying to do their job. ``I would definitely describe it as interesting,'' Dudley said. ``I would say shock. We've had a lot of changes the last couple of days. I've never been a part of this many changes so fast. But it just shows what happens when you're not winning games.''

He says the players just have to buy in to what Hunter is preaching.

``At the end of the day, players have to go out there and execute to the best of your ability to try to win games,'' Dudley said. ``If not, you could be out of here. First time it might be usually coaches, after that it goes to players - get them out of here.''

The Suns are getting hammered on local radio talk shows, in part because of the extreme popularity of Gentry, in part because of the hiring of the inexperienced and only recently arrived Hunter, and in part because fans compare the troubled franchise to the one that Jerry Colangelo operated for so many years, usually as a winner.

Dudley said the history of winning in the Suns organization fuels that criticism.

``They've had the luxury of winning so often,'' he said, ``so anytime you have a lot of losing these last couple of years, especially this year, taking a huge step back, they're going to look at the owner and management and they're going to look at the players. We kind of have to focus on finishing the season well and hopefully after free agency, the draft and a fresh start next year we can get back to what this city wants.''

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Follow Bob Baum at www.twitter.com/Thebaumerphx

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Jay Gruden wants excellent play from Alex Smith, but he also expects personal responsibility

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Jay Gruden wants excellent play from Alex Smith, but he also expects personal responsibility

As June minicamp concluded, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden pulled no punches when asked about expectations for new quarterback Alex Smith. 

"He has got to get it down by the first game," Gruden said of Smith. 

While that might not sound overly demanding, remember this is Smith's first season in Washington. The QB will be playing with new teammates and implementing new terminology. 

Still, Smith is a veteran with a lot of experience, and frankly, it seems like Gruden isn't worried about a transition period. 

"We are not in here to build the team around him, the team is built and he has to lead it like right now," the coach said. "This isn’t a two- or three-year process. This is a one-year process and we have got to win right away."

Gruden made things quite clear. He expects the best from Smith, yesterday. 

Those comments created headlines, but there was something else the coach said about his passer that also stood out. Asked about Smith's veteran presence, Gruden talked about what the quarterback might mean for his teammates. 

"The whole job a quarterback has is obviously getting the most out of the people around you. That’s what I think he does as good as anybody," Gruden said. "He’ll get the most out of the tight ends. He’ll get the most out of the backs."

The coach continued, and things got a bit more interesting.

"He’ll get the most out of the receivers and offensive line because they’re going to want to play for him and they’re going to feel confident that he’s going to make something happen in a positive way or at least give it everything he’s got and take responsibility if something doesn’t work out."

Redskins fans are often a weirdly divided bunch. Many liked former QB Kirk Cousins but plenty did not think he was worth the type of money he was paid the last two seasons. Along the way, some fans will read Gruden's comments about making something happen and taking responsibility as a jab at Cousins. That's probably wrong. 

Remember, Trent Williams played through a serious knee injury last season. Asked why, Williams said he wanted to be out there to protect Cousins. Guys played for Cousins. 

The responsibility comment might mean something else, though. Their was a rather hostile back-and-forth last season between Gruden and Cousins last season, when the QB and coach disagreed about taking more risks with the football. A quick reminder of the scene: Cousins told a reporter that he would throw 20 interceptions if he played like Gruden wanted. The coach responded that while the interceptions might pile up, the QB would also throw 60 touchdowns. (Relive it here)

Throughout his career, Smith has thrown less interceptions than Cousins. But that doesn't mean Smith doesn't take risks or put his receivers in position to make plays. 

It's entirely possible Gruden simply expects Smith, a veteran, to be a responsible player and leader. And it's likely that comment had nothing to do with the Redskins previous quarterbacks. 

The bottom line is that Smith better be ready to go Week 1, and his coach made that clear. And if Smith isn't, Gruden expects his quarterback to take responsibility. 

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John Carlson agrees to big-money deal to stay with the Capitals

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John Carlson agrees to big-money deal to stay with the Capitals

On Friday, the Capitals shipped out Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to clear space on the salary cap for John Carlson's massive contract extension.

On Sunday night, Carlson signed on the dotted the line. 

The 28-year-old became the latest core Cap to sign a long-term deal, inking an eight-year extension that will carry an $8 million average salary. 

His cap hit is now the second highest on the team—behind Ovechkin’s $9.538 million charge and just ahead of Kuznetsov’s $7.8 million hit.

With Carlson locked up, the defending Stanley Cup champion now has the majority of its core signed through at least the 2019-20 season. Among the players with at least two years remaining on their deals are forwards Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nickas Backstrom and Lars Eller, defensemen Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov and goaltender Braden Holtby.

The Carlson news did not come as a surprise.

The Caps wanted to keep him. Carlson, who makes his offseason home in Washington, wanted to stay with the club that drafted him 27th overall in 2008. And on Friday night in Dallas, GM Brian MacLellan all but guaranteed that a deal was going to happen when he said, “We’re close and hopefully we can close the deal here over the next 24 hours.”

It ended up taking a little more than 24 hours, but in the end MacLellan got his D-man.

“John has been an exceptional and consistent player for our franchise and has blossomed into being one of the top defensemen in the NHL,” said MacLellan in a statement on Sunday. “Defenseman like John are a rare commodity in our League and, at 28 years of age, we feel he is just entering his prime.”

Indeed, Carlson notched a career-high 15 goals and 53 assists last season, and his 68 points led all NHL defensemen. He also became the eighth defensemen in Caps’ history to record 60 points in a season and the first since Mike Green accomplished the feat in 2009-10. Meanwhile, Carlson’s average ice time (24:47) also marked a career high.

“As a right-handed defenseman, John plays in all key situations and has contributed greatly to our team’s success on the special teams,” MacLellan added. “We are pleased for both parties to have come to an agreement and for him to continue his great career as a Washington Capital.”

With Carlson under contract, the Caps now have a little more than $13 million in cap space underneath the $79.5 million ceiling, according to www.capfiendly.com. Michal Kempny, Jay Beagle, Alex Chiasson and Jakub Jerabek are all unrestricted free agents, while Tom Wilson, Devante Smith-Pelly, Travis Boyd and Madison Bowey are restricted free agents.

Carlson’s also signing kicks off a big week for MacLellan.

In addition to negotiating with the free agents he hopes to retain, he’s expected to have a formal interview with associate coach Todd Reirden, who is the leading candidate to replace Barry Trotz as head coach.

So buckle up, there figure to be a few more important announcements in the coming days.

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