PHOENIX — In each NBA game, there are 240 minutes of playing time a head coach must divide among his players.
How Jeff Hornacek handles that division will be watched closely this season.
All 15 players, all of whom have guaranteed contracts, want to play. All won’t, at least not as much as they would like. The math just doesn’t add up.
It may prove too difficult for the second-year coach to utilize his team’s depth each and every night. In other words, someone — and in all likelihood, more than one player — is not going to take his warm-ups off.
That may lead to hurt feelings, or worse, complaints, which can become a distraction.
“If it’s all about winning like (the players) say, then (playing time) shouldn’t be a problem,” Hornacek said.
It won’t be, according to forward Markieff Morris.
“Winning is the most important thing in our locker room,” he said. “No matter who is on the court, guys that aren’t playing need to support the guys that are playing.”
Which five players start a game appears to be of little concern as well.
Take Isaiah Thomas. In three seasons with the Sacramento Kings, he started 153 of the 216 games (71 percent) in which he appeared. In his first season with the Suns, Thomas is expected to come off the bench.
“When my name is called, I’m just going to be ready and take advantage of any opportunity that they give me,” he said, while admitting coming off the bench was an adjustment in the preseason. “But I’m all for it. I’m all for whatever it takes to win. I’m a great teammate — a guy that’s just going to bring his hard hat each and every day. I think that’s how people fall in love with me. I just give it my all.”
This much is certain: Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic are the starting backcourt and Miles Plumlee is the starting center. There is less certainty at the other two frontcourt positions.
Does Hornacek go with P.J. Tucker, a starter last season, or Marcus Morris at small forward? Might Gerald Green get a start, as he did in the preseason finale at Utah? And what about the power forward spot, where Markieff Morris and Anthony Tolliver provide different skill sets?
Hornacek used five different starting lineups in the preseason.
Complicating matters, at least initially, is the fact Tucker will miss the first three regular season games after the NBA suspended him because of his guilty plea to a DUI charge over the summer. Phoenix opens the 2014-15 campaign hosting the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday, and then the San Antonio Spurs visit on Friday before the Suns take a road trip to Utah on Saturday.
“Without Tuck, it could be a matchup thing,” Hornacek said. “Gerald played pretty decent against Utah, so we may go that route. Maybe a bigger guy, Marcus maybe, on (the Lakers’) Kobe (Bryant).”
Dragic called Tucker’s absence “a big loss. But we need to go to battle without him. I’m not worried about that because we have guys that are hungry and eager to prove,” pointing to Green and Marcus Morris.
“It’s going to be even tougher trying to stop Kobe without P.J.,” Bledsoe said. “He was our defensive individual player who guards the primary guy. Now, everybody has got to lock in and try to play a little bit of team defense a lot better.”
Tucker said he hasn’t decided where he is going to watch the home opener, or even if he is going to watch the game.
“I might get the film on it after the game,” he said. “(But) I have the utmost confidence in my teammates.”