USA TODAY Sports Weekly

Suns’ didn’t solve is­sues by oust­ing Hor­nacek

- Paola Boivin @Pao­laBoivin USA TO­DAY Sports

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.

 ?? MARK J. REBILAS, USA TO­DAY SPORTS ?? Jeff Hor­nacek was 101-112 in two-plus sea­sons as Suns head coach.
MARK J. REBILAS, USA TO­DAY SPORTS Jeff Hor­nacek was 101-112 in two-plus sea­sons as Suns head coach.

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