After a long and extensive search, the Phoenix Suns have finally settled on Detroit Pistons assistant Terry Porter as the 13th head coach in team history.
With names like Clyde Drexler, Jerome Kersey, Kevin Duckworth and Buck Williams, the Portland Trail Blazers had plenty of veteran voices and on-court leaders during their two runs to the NBA Finals in 1990 and 1992.
“But when Terry Porter talked, everyone listened,” Williams said Saturday. “He was our coach on the floor. No one who played with him would be surprised that his next step after playing would be the bench.”
Former Porter teammate and Suns general manager Steve Kerr couldn’t agree more. And after a long and extensive search, Kerr asked Porter to continue his coaching career in the Valley and made him the 13th coach in franchise history.
Porter, 45, agreed to a three-year deal worth approximately $7 million early Saturday morning, and word leaked to the media quickly. By midday, Kerr had confirmed that his close friend and former San Antonio Spurs teammate (1999-2002) had been chosen over finalists Tyrone Corbin and Elston Turner to replace Mike D’Antoni.
Porter will be introduced to the public at a press conference Monday at US Airways Center.
“Terry and I have had a great relationship for a long time, but he’s going to be our coach because he’s the best candidate,” Kerr said Saturday. “His experience as a head coach in the league is one part, his reputation as a player and a person is one part, and his great combination of confidence and humility is another.
“I couldn’t be happier with where we are today.”
The was no immediate word on who might join Porter on his staff, but it is a safe bet that it will be a combination of Kerr- and Porter-inspired hires.
After retiring in 2002 and spending one year as assistant coach in Sacramento, the 45-year-old Porter spent two seasons (2003-05) as the head coach in Milwaukee — where the Bucks were ranked as the top offensive team in the Eastern Conference during a surprise 41-41 first season.
He also added two years of experience as an assistant under Flip Saunders (2006-08) with one of the league’s best defensive teams in Detroit.
Drafted by Portland out of tiny Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 1985, Porter spent 17 years as a point guard in the NBA . He was an All-Star twice and reached the NBA Finals twice with Portland (1990, 1992).
Porter played for five of the top 24 coaches on the all-time win list — Pat Riley (third), Jack Ramsay (10th), Rick Adelman (14th), Gregg Popovich (20th) and Saunders (24th). He retired after the 2002-03 season having missed the playoffs only once.
“You look at the people he’s played for and the people he’s coached under, and see the respect and responsibility those guys gave him as a point guard and assistant coach,” Kerr said. “And then you add the head coaching experience in Milwaukee, is which something you just can’t simulate or substitute.”
Porter is regarded as a sharp basketball man who likes the running game but won’t tolerate offense at the expense of defensive lapses. That sounds a lot like what Kerr said he wanted after the Suns and D’Antoni parted ways on May 10, with D’Antoni landing in New York with the Knicks. Porter’s first interview came five days later.
“I think he will relate well with our veteran players as a guy who has been through the fire,” Kerr said. “And I also think he will relate to our younger players from a teaching and development standpoint. He’s going to have some horses to work with here.”
Taking over his hometown team in Milwaukee, Porter guided a Bucks squad that was picked to finish among the worst in the league to a playoff berth.
The next year, the Bucks lost guard T.J. Ford for the entire season to an injury and made several salary-cap-related trades. The team sagged to a 30-52 record and when Milwaukee won the draft lottery that spring, owner Sen. Herb Kohl decided to try to upgrade the coaching position and Porter was fired.
After chasing Saunders, Doug Collins and other high-profile replacements, the Bucks wound up with first-time coach Terry Stotts and the underachieving Andrew Bogut as the top pick and haven’t been back to the .500 mark since.
Saunders wound up in Detroit and quickly snatched up Porter as his top assistant. The Pistons reached the Eastern Conference finals in both of Porter’s seasons but no further, and Saunders was fired on Tuesday. Porter was expected to interview for Saunders’ old job on Monday — a job that is expected to go to No. 2 assistant Michael Curry — but told the Pistons on Saturday he was coming to the Suns.