A dismal 25-57 season in 2012-13 made more than just one thing apparent to Phoenix Suns president of basketball operations.
Not only did the team need a new coach, after Alvin Gentry (13-28) and Lindsey Hunter (12-29) split halves of the season — faring almost equally as poorly, but they also lacked a connection to their roots, as Babby would be the first to admit.
Such a connection to the past was something Babby and the organization grew to covet as they parted ways with Hunter, then an interim head coach, and former general manager Lance Blanks. Somehow, someway, they wanted to evoke nostalgia of the organization’s glory days among fans.
So, when the search for a new head coach began, Babby, general manager Ryan McDonough and the Suns hoped to find such a connection among their long list of prerequisites for their new team leader.
“I go back to the interview process,” Babby recalled of that period of time. “We had a pretty thorough process and a pretty thorough list of qualifications we wanted in our head coach.
Coincidentally, the fellow who best met such a thorough list of requirements was former Suns great Jeff Hornacek.
“Jeff checked off every box,” Babby told.
“The fact that he had all the other qualifications, and then he was beloved in the community and beloved in the Valley — that was a cherry on top of the ice cream sundae.
“His connection to the community has been a wonderful bonus. ”
And basketball-wise, things are night and day when contrasted to last season’s gloom, almost to a T.
Last Christmas, Gentry and the Suns were 11-17 and the middle of a six-game losing streak. On Wednesday, Hornacek and the Suns found themselves at 17-10, having won eight of their last nine games.
Babby credits his hire for the turnaround.
“The coaching has been terrific and the players have responded,” he said.
And there was plenty more raving ahead.
“He has compiled a terrific staff and has managed that staff well,” Babby said of Hornacek.
“And he has virtually no ego.”
One of the problems with the 2012-13 Suns was streakiness. They once were mired in a 10-game losing streak and, prior to another long losing streak — a six-game one — they managed a four-game winning streak. Buy-in from the players, among other things, was problematic.
“It’s a grueling season and it’s year after year and you want someone who is going to be able to maintain the confidence and trust of the players — not just for two weeks or two months or two years, but for a long, long period of time,” Babby explained, perhaps referencing the tenure of Hunter, who won his first two games as interim head coach of the Suns and went 4-4 in his first eight games.
Hornacek, on the other hand, with an overhauled roster and a host of bright young players, has the opposite effect going. Buy-in and long-term thinking is seemingly there among the Suns’ fresh faces.
“He has an extraordinary ability to communicate,” Babby bragged of Hornacek. “He is calm but at the same time can command respect. The players trust him because of what he has accomplished in his own career, but I think more importantly, it’s obvious what his knowledge of the game is.
“(He’s) a guy who I think is going to be a terrific coach for the Phoenix Suns for a long, long time.”