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MavsFanFinley
04-18-2002, 07:58 PM
Phoenix Suns rehire Johnson as coach
By BOB BAUM

AP Sports Writer
April 18, 2002

PHOENIX (AP) -- The Phoenix Suns, who failed to make the NBA playoffs for the first time in 14 years, will bring back Frank Johnson as coach next season.

The team announced on Thursday that Johnson had signed a three-year contract.

Johnson, 43, took over on Feb. 17 when Scott Skiles left by mutual agreement with the franchise. The Suns went 11-20 under Johnson but the team played with noticeably more emotion and energy.

``Things were kind of a downer before Scott Skiles left, in my opinion,'' Suns owner Jerry Colangelo said. ``It was kind of a heavy feeling around the clubhouse, the locker room, the bench. I think Frank brought some enthusiasm. I just got a better feel that there was something positive going on.''

Johnson will oversee a rebuilding project that will center on four young players -- Stephon Marbury, Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson and Jake Tsakalidis. Marbury is the oldest at 25.

``We certainly have our work cut out,'' the coach said at a news conference. ``We have a nucleus of young talent here, and we will be bringing in more young talent in this year's draft. We will work very, very hard to get it back to where we are accustomed to seeing it. I certainly welcome this challenge.''

Phoenix's own draft pick is a lottery selection. The Suns also have Boston's first-round pick as part of the trade that sent Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk to the Celtics.

Johnson and Suns president Bryan Colangelo met with each player individually Thursday morning.

One of the major questions facing the coach and the franchise is how to deal with Penny Hardaway. When Johnson became coach, he benched Hardaway in favor of rookie Joe Johnson.

``I don't see that changing,'' Frank Johnson said.

Hardaway didn't like the role, and the Suns reportedly would like to trade him. However, Hardaway has four years remaining on a seven-year, $86.5 million contract.

Hardaway has the option of voiding the final two years, and that would clear the way for a trade. But Hardaway repeatedly has said he will not void the contract.

``I worked too hard in my career to give that up,'' he said.

Hardaway emerged from his 30-minute meeting Thursday and said he wanted to work hard and come back to the Suns next season, even if it meant being a reserve.

``It is tough to trade me because of that contract,'' Hardaway said. ``Somebody would have to be really willing to want Penny Hardaway really bad. And I really haven't posted numbers to make a person want you bad, unless they see the potential in what I've done in the minutes I've had. It's going to be interesting this summer to see what's really going on.''

Bryan Colangelo said Hardaway was considering an operation that could help the flexibility in his surgically-repaired left knee.

Hardaway's status and another big contract for oft-injured Tom Gugliotta will make the Suns' rebuilding extremely difficult.

``When you're locked in,'' Jerry Colangelo said, ``you have to look at the draft.''

The team sorely needs some low-post scoring to complement the play of Marbury and Marion. Among the top priorities for the team this summer will be to sign Marion to a contract extension. He has one year remaining on the contract he signed as a rookie.

Marbury came to Phoenix in the trade that sent Jason Kidd to New Jersey, a deal that made the Nets a contender. The Suns, meanwhile, finished 36-46, the worst since they were 28-54 in 1987-88.

Johnson, the Suns' first black head coach, played 10 seasons in the NBA. He was a key reserve on the Phoenix team that reached the NBA Finals in 1993. He is the fifth former Suns player to be named the team's head coach. He was a Phoenix assistant for six seasons, the last two as Skiles' top aide.

``If history means anything to you, we've never been down for long,'' Jerry Colangelo said. ``And down for us means 36 wins. We'll do what it takes, and he's the guy we chose to lead us forward.''[/i]