One of the first things Jeff Hornacek did after he was named the 16th head coach in Phoenix Suns history was to hire a staff. He brought on board four fresh faces: Three former players, including two former teammates plus a defensive guru.
Together, those four individuals have more than 80 seasons of NBA experience both on and off the court.
“The guys that I tried to hire were not just guys who knew offense or defense. They were guys who knew basketball,” Hornacek said.
Get to know: SUNS ASSISTANT MIKE LONGABARDI
“He knows both sides of the game, but I think his defensive knowledge and what he did with Boston will, when we get into any discussions and talk about things, it’s very helpful to have a guy who kind of specializes,” Hornacek said.
Longabardi joins the Suns after six seasons as an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics under Doc Rivers. His time in Boston included three appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals, two trips to the NBA Finals and the 2008 NBA title.
He coordinated one of the league’s top defenses as the Celtics consistently ranked among the best in most major defensive categories.
Prior to landing in Boston, Longabardi spent four seasons as an assistant with the Houston Rockets working for current ABC/ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy. Houston is where Longabardi began his NBA career, first as an assistant video coordinator in 2003.
What interested you about joining the Suns?
“I just looked at the whole perspective that they have, and I’ve never been in this situation before. It’s a great place to live. I like the moves that Ryan (McDonough) has made. So for me personally, it was an opportunity to come in and kind of put my stamp on it and help (Hornacek) so that we can all be successful and build it from the bottom up.
“My goal is, hopefully, one day become a head coach. I don’t know if that’s going to happen or not; only time will tell. But I know if I do probably get an opportunity it’s going to have to be in a situation where you’re going to have to start from the ground up. So to me, this is exciting too. So I’m going to come here, see what Jeff is going to do; how he’s going to do things and help him a little bit.
“This is the first time that I’m working on a team that I didn’t really know anybody coming in, so that’s going to be good for me also. All those things together, and obviously coming here to Phoenix, it’s a beautiful place to live. It was kind of like an easy decision when you really, really put everything down on paper.
“This is going to be new. Yeah, I’ve never dealt with this before, which is part of the reason why I wanted to do it. I’m not so much caught up right now with the results because this is a process. The results are important. We always want to win. I’m not saying that that’s not important, but we just got to keep taking steps so that we’re getting better and each year we make progress. To me that’s the sign of a good coach: How he does each year, are they getting better, are they improving.”
What is your strength; where are you going to best help the team?
“I hope just the experience of being around winning teams — when these young guys ask me, ‘What’s Kevin Garnett like? What’s Ray Allen like? Paul Pierce?’ I’ll just tell them, ‘Hey, this is what they were doing and that’s why they are who they are.’
“My schemes and defensive background is obviously something that interests Jeff. We know what we want to do. We want to protect the paint; and they obviously didn’t do a good job of that last year. We just got to try and improve on that. We want to then defend the three, which we have to do a better of that. And then we want to defend without fouling, which I thought getting a taste of these guys in summer league that was one thing we could’ve done a better job of. And then the most important thing is finishing with the rebounds.
I think our philosophy will be spelled out, right, the first day of training camp. We just got to hold these guys accountable. We got to get them to understand what we want and expect of them. They have to understand that we have to do more than one thing if we’re going to be successful because that’s what the great teams do.”
Away from the basketball court, what are your other interests?
“My family is big for me. I have two little girls (ages 6 and 3) and a wonderful wife. For those that know our lifestyle, once we get started, I mean, we really get stripped of the time we can spend with them, so any little bit of time that I do get I want to spend with them. And really, that’s it. I’m committed to the job and I’m committed to my family.”
This is part two of a four-part series. Part one, Kenny Gattison, was released Tuesday. Thursday, we introduce Jerry Sichting.