In the spring of 2014, just two short years ago, the Arizona Cardinals were coming off an unforeseen 10-win season under their new coach/GM combo of Bruce Arians and Steve Keim.
The Phoenix Suns were in the midst of a shocking 48-win season when preseason expectations had them resembling a Sherman Tank. They were led by their new duo of Ryan McDonough and Jeff Hornacek.
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
Even Dickens would have a hard time making sense of what has happened since. The Cardinals have ascended to a level reserved for the most revered teams in our sports history while the Suns are looking for a new coach. Again.
We awoke this morning to the news that Hornacek had been fired following another lackluster performance against the Dallas Mavericks. The one in which they scored nine points in the fourth quarter. A loss which was the 19th in their last 21 games.
Of course he didn’t deserve it; the Suns’ problems run much deeper than Hornacek’s abilities. But as Clint Eastwood said to Gene Hackman in one of my all-time favorite movies Unforgiven (and later borrowed by the TV show The Wire): “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.”
When you’re as bad as the Suns are you start running out of things to do. Hornacek’s firing was predictable. Inevitable. Unfortunate. To look at this move and think it will make a difference is foolish.
Yes, he lost the locker room and his players were tuning him out. It was a shock to hear him admit as much last week when he said the players weren’t doing what they were being coached to do. I suspect had he been somebody other than a beloved former Suns player, this might have taken place weeks ago. The only downfall to hiring one of your franchise legends to be your coach is firing him.
The roster was a mess, littered with injured players, unnecessary expenses and kids learning on the fly. And Markieff Morris. Don’t get me started about that.
The fact that Morris outlasted Hornacek is hard to wrap your brain around. You want to talk about “deserve?” Hornacek deserved a chance to coach a roster that didn’t have a Morris twin on it. That chance never came.
So now what? The last time we played the “deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it” card it was Alvin Gentry on the wrong side of the equation. Months later, GM Lance Blanks was gone, too. Does the same fate await McDonough? I don’t know.
McDonough has done some good. The draft picks have ranged anywhere from decent (Alex Len) to potentially great (Devin Booker). Free agency has been a different story. McDonough has been aggressive in courting LeBron James in 2014 and LaMarcus Aldridge last year, but when he’s missed, his Plan B hasn’t been very good.
I’m still not sure what purpose Tyson Chandler serves on this roster and the signing of Isaiah Thomas might be the domino that started this awful chain reaction.
Likely signed as insurance in case Eric Bledsoe left that offseason, team chemistry and balance has been a mess ever since. Perhaps it was prudent to protect yourself, but the unintended consequences included an unhappy Goran Dragic, a rushed trade at last year’s deadline and a quickie Vegas-style marriage to Brandon Knight.
How they clean this up is anybody’s guess. But the cold reality is that in the NBA, where rebuilds take forever, the Suns might be years from being good again.
And the top spot they have ceded to the Cardinals? They’re never getting that back again.
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