PHOENIX, AZ — When major league baseball looked for a stabilizing force to lead Phoenix’s expansion efforts in the mid-1990s, it sought out Suns managing partner Jerry Colangelo.
30 years later, the Philadelphia 76ers are trying the same formula to revitalize their flailing franchise, and New Orleans Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry is certain the struggling 76ers are on the right track.
Gentry’s experiences with Colangelo and new 76ers associate head coach Mike D’Antoni leave him no doubt.
“I think Philly, they were absolutely great, thinking Jerry is the guy who could come in and really get this thing back in line,” Gentry said. “If anybody is going to do it, he’s going to be the guy who can get it done.
“Especially, you know, they have some pretty talented good, young athletes.”
Colangelo, 76 like his new team, was named chairman of basketball operations on Dec. 7, and former Suns coach D’Antoni joined coach Brett Brown’s staff this week.
Gentry was an assistant to D’Antoni during the Suns’ great runs with All-NBA point guard Steve Nash from 2003-09, and Colangelo was a four-time NBA executive of the year before Robert Sarver bought controlling interest in the franchise in 2004.
Colangelo, who’s lent his expertise to USA Basketball in recent years, also will serve as advisor to the 76ers’ managing partner. D’Antoni coached the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers after leaving Phoenix in a dispute with Sarver.
“I think that he wanted to get back and he wanted to be in a certain situation where he thought he could help someone, not just come back for the heck of it,” Gentry said of D’Antoni.
“But I think it’s a great situation. I think it’s a great situation for Philly. I think it’s a great situation for Brett Brown. Mike is such a good, good guy. He’s a great basketball coach, but he’s such a good, good guy that I think he’ll do everything in the world to try to help that situation.”
The 76ers are 1-27 this season after a loss to New York Knicks on Friday, and rookie center Jahlil Okafor also has been involved in several off-court incidents. They drafted Okafor after going 18-64 last year, adding to a young nucleus that also includes former high draft picks Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Nik Stauskas.
Brown was effusive in his praise of D’Antoni after Friday’s game.
“He’s a hell of a resource and a hell of a coach,” Brown said. “I think we’re all going to benefit.”
Colangelo suggested D’Antoni, and when that happened, Gentry considered it a done deal.
“I don’t know very many people who would say no to Jerry,” Gentry said.
“I don’t think that’s in Jerry’s vocabulary, or anyone else that is dealing with him.”