CHICAGO - Terry Porter has returned to Milwaukee’s Bradley Center as an assistant since he was fired as head coach of the Bucks after the 2004-05 season. But he’ll appear for the first time as a front man tonight — and he’s not fighting with one hand tied behind his back anymore.
When a Milwaukee reporter who came to the Suns-Bulls game asked him if anything was different for him this time around, Porter broke into laughter and started counting fingers. “Let’s see,” he said. “First-ballot Hall of Famers, All-Stars, um …”
He also has the full backing of management, which was a problem with the Bucks. After surprisingly guiding the team to the playoffs in his first season, a serious injury to guard T.J. Ford and a revolving roster led to a slippage the next season. And six weeks after Bucks general manager Larry Harris told Porter “We’re going to sink or swim together on this,”
Porter was fired, reportedly at the behest of Milwaukee owner, Sen. Herb Kohl.
“The way the whole way situation laid out, you wouldn’t wish it on anybody,” said Porter, who said he understood the Bucks thought they could get Flip Saunders to replace him — but wound up with Terry Stotts.
“Once you get the vote of approval and then have them come back and (fire you), it wasn’t the best scenario. I thought I did the best possible job I could do under the circumstances, but obviously someone else didn’t have that opinion.
“Every time you have a failure in this league … it’s about how you respond. I was just fortunate and grateful to be in a situation in Detroit for two years with a great organization, and fortunate to get this great opportunity in Phoenix.”
Stotts lasted two seasons, Larry Krystowiak one and now Scott Skiles is running the Bucks — who haven’t been to the playoffs since 2006.
“And I’ll tell you right now, the guys that came after me … their rosters were a lot better than my rosters, ain’t no doubt about it. The second year (without Ford), it wasn’t even close,” Porter said.
SHAQ SITS … SERIOUSLY
When Porter confirmed that Shaquille O’Neal wouldn’t play Friday against the Bulls, he heard several “Are you sure?” comments. After all, O’Neal was supposed to sit Wednesday before Matt Barnes got word that his fiancée was about to give birth to twins.
“Well, if (Friday’s starting center) Robin Lopez finds out just before the game he’s got a baby due to deliver …” Porter said. “But if that’s the case, we’ve got a lot more issues.”
The baby news doesn’t stop there. Guard Raja Bell found during Friday’s game that his wife Cindi is close to delivering the couple’s second child.
He traveled with the team to Milwaukee, but is closely monitoring the situation and may leave if she goes into labor.
Barnes won’t rejoin the team until Monday’s home game with Memphis and O’Neal will return today to match up with Milwaukee’s Andrew Bogut — who averaged 24 points and 12 rebounds in two games against Phoenix last year.
NOT OVER YET
New Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro watched this Phoenix nucleus as a color analyst, personnel man and assistant GM for the last five years and thinks there is still plenty of steam left in the aging Suns.
“They’ll improve as the season goes on — not that they’re playing bad now,” said Del Negro, who got the Bulls gig after Mike D’Antoni and Doug Collins declined offers. “When you have great players, guys who have been around, things seem to run a lot smoother.
“There’s no question they have a great opportunity, not only this year but the next few years. The way Steve (Nash) keeps himself in shape, it’s not a closed window by any stretch for those guys.”