This weekend's big news for the Phoenix Suns: they are interviewing Terry Porter again for their head coaching position. When asked by Bright Side of the Sun for thoughts about TP as their new coach, I drew some comparisons between TP's running the early 1990s Blazers and how that experience might help him as Suns coach. As a Blazer, he successfully managed an up-tempo game, maximized the benefits of a lumbering big man, and developed his talent through pure, hard work. Given the makeup of the Suns roster (Nash; Shaq; Barbosa and Amare), I think you'd agree that all three of these skills are big time positives for the Suns.
So, I decided to consult one of the Original Texts-- The Long Hot Winter by Rick Adelman with Dwight Jaynes. For those unfamiliar, it is a "first-person" account of the 1990-1991 Blazers team- the one that started off hotter than almost any team in franchise history but ended up losing in the WCF to the hated Lakers. Adelman admits early on in the text that, despite the team's success, he was still settling into the head coaching position. The expectations were huge; the roster's talent was immense; the pressure was intense. It was the perfect storm for a point guard's legend to be fashioned.
The following is a rather long excerpt from The Long Hot Winter; as such, I urge you to click the link above and purchase the book if you haven't already. In this passage alone, Adelman talks about "Best Player Available" draft strategy, point guard rotation drama, and the importance of working hard after signing an extension. 15 years later: seems like nothing has changed, eh?
In this excerpt, Coach Adelman discusses what Terry Porter meant to the Blazers and his long road to elite point guard status.
I think it is a fitting tribute to TP's legacy-- from a coach to a player.
It's incredible what he has done. I don't know if there is another guy who's reached all-star status at point guard who never played the position until he got in the pros. I mean, that just doesn't happen. Most guys who play point in the pros have been playing it pretty much all their lives. They may have been scorers in college, but they probably still had the ball in their hands all the time.
But for Terry to make the transition from being a forward at a small college to becoming one of the top five point guards in our league is incredible. We have Jerome and Kevin Duckworth, who are also from small colleges, but Terry is a great example of a guy coming in who is, at first, just trying to make a team.
He was drafted, but he thought he would get drafted higher. We had two other point guards, Darnell Valentine and Steve Colter, but we took him with the last pick of the first round because you just couldn't pass him up. He was one of the top guards in the draft and was sitting there available. There wasn't a better player left, so we took him. He really didn't know if he was going to make the league, but he worked his tail off. I think his rookie year was disappointing for him, but by the all-star game he was playing better than the other guys and we traded Darnell.
I think most players - especially those from small schools - go through different stages. His first stage was just to make the league. Then he got a starting job, and when he did that, he had to prove that he was a legitimate starter. He was asked to lead then, but when you ask someone to lead who is still just fighting for status in the league, it really isn't fair.
You can't really ask him to lead, especially when you have such people as Clyde and Kiki Vandeweghe, who had been all-stars. We had a lot of guys who had been in the league a lot longer than he had. And a lot of guys kidded him a lot about being from Wisconsin- Stevens Point. So he hadn't made his mark yet and he wasn't comfortable leading then - even though he clearly had leadership qualities in him.
I felt at the time, Terry would never truly be the leader until one thing happened: he needed a contract that got him on equal footing with everybody else. It finally happened after the 1988-89 season. He played out his original contract and hit the jackpot. He made a heck of a deal. And the thing that impressed me the most is that the summer he got that contract was the summer during which he worked the hardest. He wanted to show he deserved the money.
After the contract, his level of play and his confidence level - everything - was different. He was a different player. I think he finally felt accepted, that he had arrived - that he belonged. And I think the leadership role was a natural thing for him out on the court from that point on. In the playoffs last season he made big shots, rose to the occasion time after time. I saw a new maturity about him as a player and as a person. He knew he belonged with the top players in the league.
A lot of times you don't realize that he came from nowhere and it took him six years. But I think he's a much stronger person for it and a much better player because of it. He got there because of hard work, and he's never forgotten that.
Now it's just a matter of concentration for him. He knows he's good, and making the all-star team was one more stage for him. That he's an all-star now makes the story even more incredible. He's won so many games for us down the stretch. The only stage left for him is to be a champion.
Alas, the championship never came. However, it is important to note this: Terry went on to play another decade in the NBA after this passage was written!
This man deserves his jersey retired. And he deserves the Suns job too. Perhaps Steve Kerr should give Rick Adelman a call?
-- Ben (email@example.com)