PHOENIX — They say you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
Jeff Hornacek’s first impression as a head coach came almost immediately after he was hired one year ago Wednesday.
On the job less than a week, Hornacek ran the Suns’ initial pre-draft workout — surprising the six prospects in attendance. Head coaches typically sit and watch workouts, not stand and shout instructions.
Hornacek then chose to lead the Suns entry in the Las Vegas Summer League, once again surprising observers. See, head coaches typically sit and watch summer league games, not walk the sideline and diagram plays.
But Hornacek figured what better way to get his feet wet as a first-year head coach then to, you know, actually coach. And he was successful, leading the Suns to a 6-1 record and a spot in the inaugural NBA Summer League Championship game.
Then came a 5-2 preseason followed by a 5-2 start to the regular season with close road losses at Oklahoma City and San Antonio, the eventual top two teams in the Western Conference.
Hornacek, the son of a coach, had opened his own coaching career winning 16 of his first 21 games, setting the stage for an atypical season, at least in the face of those so-called experts who had predicted nothing but doom and gloom for the 2013-14 Suns.
Instead, when all was said and done, Hornacek’s first season on the sideline resulted in the league’s biggest turnaround from the season before with a 23-win improvement and the tag “best team not to make the playoffs.”
“I’ll just probably remember how much fun it was to go through it with a great group of guys, hanging out every day with Lon (Babby, president of basketball operations) and Ryan (McDonough, general manager) and Robert (Sarver, managing partner) around the locker room,” he said last month just days after the Suns joined the 2007-08 Golden State Warriors as the only other 48-win team not to make the playoffs since the NBA went to a 16-team postseason format.
“To me, it’s bringing back the family atmosphere that the Phoenix Suns have always had,” he continued. “They probably still had it the last three years, but when you’re losing and there’s things going on, it probably falls to the side a little bit.
“Just the pride that we were able to get back and hopefully we can look in a couple of years and say, you know what, that started this run to this championship.”