In March of 2014, Suns fans were thrilled Jeff Hornacek was the head coach.
In March of 2015, some Suns fans have started to jump off the Hornacek bandwagon.
I gladly take the wheel of the bus for anyone jumping off. Jeff Hornacek is 100 percent the right man for the Phoenix Suns.
Right now, the Suns are somewhat hypocritical in the way they position the 2013-14 season versus this year. There are three easy options in comparing last year to this year:
1) The Suns vastly overachieved last year and heightened expectations for this season were unfair.
2) Last year wasn’t an aberration and the Suns did nothing to build on their results.
3) Both years are the same because Phoenix is a below-average Western Conference team.
Let me slide a different option between 1 and 2. The Suns slightly overachieved but the GM brought back a different team and the players brought back different attitudes.
The Isaiah Thomas signing was a bad decision no matter how the team tries to spin it. GMs like to talk in terms of assets and big picture. It’s true that the Suns got a good return in the trade for Thomas, but wasting a season of growth for a young team was not worth it. Getting playoff experience would have been invaluable for these young players and signing Thomas made that almost impossible. That’s not the fault of the head coach.
After all the attention the players received from their mostly positive season last year, a vast majority of them came back with a sense of entitlement. It was as if by showing up, they were in the playoffs and only battling for seed. Rarely have this year’s Suns played a game with a level of intensity needed to be a playoff team in the Western Conference. Sometimes, that can be the fault of the head coach, but not when there’s no leadership on the team.
The NBA is not college or high school. Young players respond to leaders in the locker room over their coach. If the players aren’t held accountable to each other, they become much more stubborn and stuck on themselves than even the normal American basketball player. What constitutes an obvious lesson to us as fans due to our experiences and tenure watching games is a new lesson for the players. Without leadership, young players ignore what is obvious because they think they’re invincible. Again, Coach Hornacek is not at fault for that, either.
There’s a philosophical issue at work here that was exposed by Robert Sarver on Monday. The Suns owner was on with Burns and Gambo. Most of the interview was outstanding, but I totally disagreed with one thing he said: “I think in order to have a championship team you have to have that kind of leadership, but I also think you’ve got to be careful to not bring that in too soon because if you bring it in too soon, the younger guys don’t have a chance to play and develop.”
If you’re raising a child, you would never let them go haywire for years then begin the process of teaching discipline and respect when they’re 15. I’m not calling the Suns players children, I’m calling them human. With the dearth of leadership on this team, there’s a lack of professionalism. A veteran can have a bad night but their effort doesn’t rise and fall with the opponent. Bad nights are life. Bad effort is either a character flaw or lack of professionalism.
If the Suns had a Grant Hill-type of player the last three years, the players would already know what it takes to be an NBA contender. There wouldn’t be a need to go out and get one. Instead, you could let the veteran go once you believed the young players were ready to lead themselves.
Every great NBA team of the past has a player who went through the wars with the same organization. That player holds his teammates accountable so the coach is coaching how to beat the opposition. Jeff Hornacek still has to teach effort and professionalism. He can’t move on to gameplans if he doesn’t know which players will bring all they can to the court.
The Suns are not a mess, but they’re in a messy time. Hornacek will prove to be part of the solution and he was never part of the problem.