PHOENIX — The award may only boast his name, but Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek would prefer to be a giving recipient when it comes to his latest accolade.
Hours after being named the Western Conference Coach of the Month for December, Hornacek’s de facto acceptance speech before Thursday night’s loss to the Memphis Grizzlies had a smattering of selfless deflections, but the message was blatantly clear.
The award is a reflection of the fact that two-plus months into the 2013-14 season, his team — one who many projected would already be focusing on the upcoming draft by the first of the year — continues to buy in to what the coaches are preaching.
“It’s a good award to get, but just like any individual award it’s really a team award,” Hornacek said. “I didn’t make any baskets. I didn’t get any rebounds. I didn’t get any assists. Obviously the players played great. The work that our assistant coaches do is all part of it. I take it as a team award that we get as a Phoenix Suns team and organization. We had a good month.”
Good might be a little light on hyperbole. Thought to be the 31-day stretch that would put an end to the Suns’ surprising start, Hornacek’s squad reeled off a 10-3 record in December, including impressive wins over the Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers.
According to Hornacek, the key ingredient has simply been his players’ collective desire to be coached — both in good times and in bad.
“If you have bad guys and you’re losing, they will probably jack around at practice and not pay attention,” said Hornacek, who became the sixth Suns coach to claim the monthly honor. “But if you have good guys and you’re losing, they work hard and try to get better. And we have a good group of guys. I don’t know if [the attitude in practice] would be any different [if we were losing more], but I wouldn’t think it would be because of the way our guys are.”
Hornacek went on to single out second-year center Miles Plumlee as an embodiment of the Suns’ coachable nature, and it’s easy to see why. The former Duke standout, who came over from the Indiana Pacers via a multi-player trade in July 2013, has not only been a stable defender on the frontline but a reliable body who can attack the glass and also score with either hand in the paint.
And in Hornacek’s mind, the best thing about Plumlee, who is averaging 10.0 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game this season, is that he’s continuing to trend upward with each passing day.
“I don’t know if it’s his basketball IQ or the willingness [to learn],” said Hornacek when asked to explain Plumlee’s maturation since training camp. “A lot of the guys come into the league and they think they know it all and don’t need to work on certain things. They think they can score on anybody. You see that a lot. But Miles is willing to listen and not just to Mark [West] and Kenny [Gattison]. Jerry [Sichting] may tell him something or Mike [Longabardi] may tell him something, and he’s very willing to listen and try it out. That’s how he’ll improve.”
It’s the type of trait that apparently has been infectious during Phoenix’s 19-12 start.
“We have a good group of guys who are willing to do the things that the coaches are asking of them,” said Hornacek. “And they may not always like it, but they still do it. They’ll grumble a little bit, and we’ll grumble back at them. But they’re fine. It’s great to have some wins and some progress that can be shown through this, because then they tend to listen even more.”