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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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Wizards follow Jordan McRae's lead and begin Davis Bertans three-point contest campaign

Wizards follow Jordan McRae's lead and begin Davis Bertans three-point contest campaign

The NBA's three-point contest is a celebration of the most important shot in basketball featuring the best snipers the game has to offer. And because of that, it would feel unbelievably wrong not to see Davis Bertans shoot at the competition at NBA All-Star weekend. 

The Wizards get to see Bertans knock down 30-footers on a nightly basis, so they're doing everything they can to get their 6-10 sharpshooter an invite. 

Washington lists just about every stat imaginable for why Bertans belongs in the three-point contest. He's on track to become the first player since Stephen Curry to shoot 43 percent on more than eight three-point attempts per game. Bertans leads the NBA in catch-and-shoot three-pointers made per game (3.2) and has seven games with six or more threes made, which is tied for third-best in the league. 

Before Bertans missed nine games with a quad injury, he was well on pace to hit more than 300 threes for the season. Only two players (Curry, James Harden) have accomplished that feat heading into the 2019-20 season. 

It's important to remember that Jordan McRae began Bertans' three-point contest campaign, and after the team tweeted out how the "Latvian Laser" belongs in the contest, he chimed in again with support for his teammate. 

Bertans has solidified himself as one of the scariest three-point threats in the NBA, and especially in a season where Curry and Klay Thompson are injured, a player like Bertans needs to at least get an invite. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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2020 NBA Trade Deadline Tracker: Latest news, reports and rumors

2020 NBA Trade Deadline Tracker: Latest news, reports and rumors

Just beyond midway through the NBA season, the NBA trade deadline has come into view. Several teams will get the opportunity to go all-in on this season while others will have the opportunity to sell-off assets and re-tool for the future. 

With this NBA season as open as ever, this could be the lone chance for a team to attempt to make a push. 

The Miami Heat are all of a sudden contenders and maybe one or two pieces away from playing late into the playoffs. While they have a decent group of young players, their immediate future could be in question. They're not the only ones as the Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets are competing for the top spots in the Western Conference as well. 

On the flip side, there are teams with big contracts not going anywhere. Kevin Love, paired with his discontent in Cleveland, is likely on the market. Andre Drummond is one of the most dominant post players in the game, but he is making $27 million on a team that is not making the playoffs and are aging quickly. And there is Andre Iguodala sitting in Memphis, doing nothing. 

Every year the NBA Trade Deadline never fails to disappoint. More often than not, it doesn't push a team over the edge to a championship, but it sure is fun for the rest of us. 

This year, the 2020 NBA Trade Deadline is Thursday, June 6 at 3:00 p.m. ET.

NBA Deadline Tracker: 

Jan. 21 - After initially be open to several trade options, the Pelicans have "pulled back in their trade talks among all of their players." New Orleans is waiting to see how Zion Williamson bolsters their team that is still in the playoff picture, according to Adrian Wojnarowski

Jan. 20 - The Lakers and 76ers have expressed interest in trading for current Detroit Piston and former league MVP Derrick Rose, Chris Haynes reports.

Jan. 18 - TRADE - The Portland Trail Blazers trade Kent Bazemore, Anthony  Tolliver and two second-round draft picks to the Sacramento Kings for Trevor Ariza, Wenyen Gabriel and Caleb Swanigan, according to Adrian Wojnarowski.

Jan. 16 - Moving Jeff Teague may have been the first domino for the Timberwolves. Minnesota is now trying to acquire D'Angelo Russell from the Warriors to fill in his space, according to The Athletic.

Jan. 16 - TRADE - Jeff Teague is leaving the Minnesota Timberwolves after being traded to the Atlanta Hawks. He and Treveon Graham head to Atlanta as Allen Crabbe goes to Minnesota, according to Adrian Wojnarowski