USA TODAY Sports Weekly
Suns’ didn’t solve issues by ousting Hornacek
Did Jeff Hornacek forget how to coach in two years?
Did amnesia befall him with the force of a cartoon anvil and wipe a memory of 20-plus years in the game?
Did he lose the title of coach Monday and gain the less attractive label of scapegoat? You betcha. To blame the Phoenix Suns’ woes, which include a 2-19 skid, on Hornacek is fodder for theater of the absurd. He is not without blame, but the bigger culprit is management, which put him in an impossible position.
What a sad state of affairs for a franchise in declining health.
He was set up to fail, starting with the decision to award him lame-duck status by allowing him to enter the 2015-16 season in the final year of his contract.
That’s not just about Hornacek. It’s about players who know their coach is not highly regarded by management and who inevitably lack the passion to play for him.
Then came roster turnover that included trading Marcus Morris and keeping his twin brother, disgruntled Markieff. The lack of foresight about the impending implosion complicated the quest of chemistry and cohesion.
It was the latest in a bizarre turn of events that saw even wellregarded players rip the organization on the way out.
If Goran Dragic is bad-mouthing you, something is amiss.
And it’s not as if a run of injuries was Hornacek’s fault.
He didn’t tear Eric Bledsoe’s meniscus. He didn’t aggravate Tyson Chandler’s hamstring.
And all those assistant coaches who were chased away during his reign? Those were orders that came from elsewhere.
He was not placed in an environment to succeed. He was put in one designed to fail.
Sigh. Remember the enthusiasm during Hornacek’s first season?
His hiring was widely celebrated, and he seemed to have the pulse of a team that overachieved. A dual point-guard lineup of Dragic and Bledsoe worked, and the Suns won 48 games, barely missing the playoffs in a talented Western Conference.
Heck, Hornacek finished second in coach of the year voting to Gregg Popovich.
Hope existed, something Suns fans hadn’t felt in a while. That feels so long ago. Hornacek, who was succeeded by interim coach Earl Watson, is not without blame. When a team falls to 14-35, it’s unlikely the coach had nothing to do with it.
Although players enjoyed playing for him, it felt at times that he lacked the tight bond you see with coaches, the ones who can scream at a guy one minute and hug him the next.
Hornacek often just seemed exasperated.
That connection can take time. This was only his third year as a head coach.
Defensively, this team was constructed to be more effective than it showed, and Hornacek was unable to draw more effort out of the group.
And the coach was a firm believer in the two-playmaker sys- tem that struggled to be as effective as its potential suggested.
But those weren’t end-of-the-world crimes, they were growing pains. And with all the good traits Hornacek had to offer, he seemed worthy of patience.
It’s remarkable to think this team is headed to a franchise-record six consecutive seasons without the playoffs.
Suns games were once a hot ticket. The atmosphere was high-energy, the play fast-paced.
Fans wanted to be in the arena and part of the collective excitement.
It is still fun, but you never know if a player is going to throw in the towel or throw it at his coach.
The organization has too many out-of-place pieces.
On their own, Robert Sarver, Lon Babby and Ryan McDonough have a lot to offer. Collectively, they’re novices.
Sarver is an accomplished and bright businessman. Running a sports team requires a certain finesse. If you don’t have the experience, you surround yourself with the right people.
Babby was a terrific agent who became president of basketball operations with too much input in personnel decisions. Now he’s simply an adviser.
McDonough is a tireless worker in talent evaluation, but being a general manager requires more than measuring skills.
It’s too bad, because lately management was working hard to get it right.
The aggressive courtship of LaMarcus Aldridge was impressive, and even though the Suns didn’t land him, securing Tyson Chandler was a respectable consolation prize.
But it went south fast. As the team unraveled, blame fell on the coach. And Hornacek is no longer a coach.
He’s a scapegoat.
Boivin writes for The (Phoenix) Arizona Republic, part of the USA TODAY NETWORK.