<
>

Porter's job status in question

Amare Stoudemire is not the only prominent employee of the Phoenix Suns facing an uncertain future.

The future of Suns coach Terry Porter appears to be even shakier.

Throughout this uncomfortable weekend for the beleaguered hosts of the NBA All-Star Game, Porter has been subjected to non-stop speculation about his imminent dismissal, amid a growing belief around the league that Porter will no longer be coaching the team when the Suns reconvene Monday to prepare for the final 31 games of his first season.

The Arizona Republic is the latest news outlet to feed that belief, reporting in a story posted on its Web site Saturday night that "there are strong indications that the Suns will have a new head coach leading them at Monday morning's practice."

Suns owner Robert Sarver insisted otherwise in a Friday e-mail to ESPN.com, saying: "We have not made that decision."

Sarver, though, stopped short of guaranteeing Porter's safety, adding that "obviously we need to improve and are evaluating everything." He could not be immediately reached Saturday for further comment.

NBA front-office sources say that the Suns' team-wide evaluation still includes the possible trading of Stoudemire or Shaquille O'Neal before Thursday's deadline and indeed extends to Porter, even though he's barely halfway through his debut season as Mike D'Antoni's replacement. Sarver and Porter were spotted meeting Friday morning at a Phoenix hotel.

With the Suns engulfed by turmoil and mired at 28-23 after a 6-10 slide leading into the break, leaving them ninth in an eight-team playoff race in the West, one source describes Porter's firing before season's end as "probable."

Sources indicate that assistant coach Alvin Gentry -- who has been a head coach three times previously (Heat, Pistons and Clippers) and ranks as a holdover from the D'Antoni era well-liked by Suns players -- is almost certain to take over for Porter should the Suns elect to make an in-season change.

Porter, however, is in the first year of a three-year contract believed to be worth roughly $7 million. For a team looking to cut costs -- which is one of the biggest reasons Stoudemire has been made available in advance of the trade deadline -- firing Porter with more than two guaranteed years left on his deal might prove to be too expensive for the Suns.

The Arizona Republic, in a story posted on its Web site Friday, quoted Porter as saying: "Robert and [team president Steve Kerr] have not talked to me about it. Robert and Steve have not talked to me about losing my position. I don't worry about things I have no control over."

Said Stoudemire during Friday's All-Star media session: "I don't know what's going on. We all are kind of not sure what's going on. I don't know how it's going to play out, man."

As for being traded, Stoudemire said he still believes that it's "60-40" that he'll remain a Sun.

"There's a lot of rumors about Chicago, a lot of rumors about Cleveland, Miami," he said. "I think any situation, any team that I go to, I bring a lot to the table. ... [But] if my last home game is as an All-Star starter here, that would be a great way to go out."

With Steve Nash as D'Antoni's coach on the floor and the modern game's answer to the Los Angeles Lakers' old "Showtime" offense, Phoenix averaged 58 wins over a four-season stretch to arguably become the league's most popular team. When the run ended last spring with an emotional first-round loss to San Antonio, Porter was Kerr's hand-picked choice to take over after they had played together with the Spurs from 1999-2001.

But locker room resistance to Porter's offensive philosophies and practice methods has been tangible since training camp, even though numerous Suns players said after D'Antoni's departure that they were ready for a greater emphasis on defense. Two of the unhappier Suns were traded away in December -- Raja Bell and Boris Diaw shipped to Charlotte in a deal for Jason Richardson -- but Phoenix has continued to be wildly inconsistent despite Porter's gradual willingness to put the ball back in Nash's hands.

The Suns swung a blockbuster deal for Shaquille O'Neal on Feb. 6, 2008, in part because of their long-standing struggles to placate both Stoudemire and Shawn Marion. Yet that has only led to new tensions this season, with Porter often running his offense through O'Neal. Finding room at the offensive end for both O'Neal and Stoudemire has proven tougher than any of the Suns' former challenges, with the defense and versatility Marion used to give them having been subtracted.

Veteran NBA columnist Peter Vecsey reported in Friday's New York Post that Kerr will take over as coach for Porter, but sources with knowledge of the Suns' thinking dismissed that scenario emphatically.

"That's an erroneous rumor," Sarver told the Republic.

If the Suns do make a coaching change, it would be the league's eighth since the season started, one shy of tying the league's single-season record of nine in the 2004-05 season. Memphis fired Marc Iavaroni on Jan. 22 and the first six firings were all before Dec. 25: Oklahoma City's P.J. Carlesimo on Nov. 22, Washington's Eddie Jordan on Nov. 24, Toronto's Sam Mitchell on Dec. 3, Minnesota's Randy Wittman on Dec. 8, Philadelphia's Maurice Cheeks on Dec. 13 and Sacramento's Reggie Theus on Dec. 15.

The Suns were one of eight teams -- along with Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Miami, Milwaukee and New York -- that made an offseason coaching change.

"I know for a fact that if things don't go right, there's three guys that'll get blamed: [Kerr] one, me two and Terry three," O'Neal told reporters during Friday's media session.

"It's kind of unfair for Terry. He came in with his system, and a lot of guys here are not really used to the system. But I like Terry. He's a knowledgeable guy. He played the game. It's always the players' job to go out and get it done."

Regarding the likelihood that he'll be traded again before Thursday's deadline, O'Neal said: "I'd love to stay here. [Kerr has] been good to me. The training staff has rejuvenated my career. But I'm not in control."

Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.