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Suns coach: More leadership, better balance on this team

Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek watches during the second half of his team's NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets on Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, in Denver. The Nuggets won 106-81. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
LISTEN: Jeff Hornacek, Suns head coach

The 2015-16 NBA season is finally here, and with opening night comes a fresh sense of hope and optimism for every team around the league.

Nowhere is that more true than in Phoenix, where the Suns are looking to bounce back from a disappointing 39-win campaign that saw them fall well short of preseason goals and expectations.

The roster features seven players who were not with the team last year, and another — guard Brandon Knight — who appeared in only 11 games with the club following a deadline-day trade.

Finally, it’s time to see what this team is made of.

“What we’ve found through the preseason and even the work before the season even started that these guys are putting in is that they’re pretty determined to turn it around,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek told Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Wednesday morning. “They know that we have to take a step forward in our effort every single night. They worked hard over the summer on their games to try to go to that next level.

“They realize if they put it all out there we can be a pretty good team. If they come out and kind of go through the motions and think they’re going to turn it on, that’s not going to work out too well.”

Opinions of the team and its prospects vary.

Here at Arizona Sports, a survey of 13 panelists gave had the team pegged to win 43.9 games this season, with just eight of 14 respondents predicting the Suns will end their five-year postseason drought.

One of the main reasons some think the Suns will reach the playoffs for the first time since 2010 is because of an improved leadership situation. Last season’s roster, while talented, seemed to ride a roller coaster of emotions all season long. The belief is that, quite simply, the team was too young and immature.

Enter Tyson Chandler, the team’s big (in salary and stature) free agent acquisition.

“We had some young guys last year,” Hornacek said, adding that the team’s oldest key player last year was P.J. Tucker, who had never been in the postseason. “You didn’t really have anybody that could lend that experience of what it takes. The coaches, we’ve all been there, we can harp on it, but it’s always helpful when one of your teammates is doing it.

“When we brought Tyson Chandler in, that was a big reason. He’s won a championship, he’s won a gold medal. He’s been around great players and he knows what it takes to get to that level. It’s not easy.”

Hornacek said part of that includes pushing his teammates in practice, stepping up and being vocal when players are not working at the level they should be. Being a leader isn’t just about getting on teammates, though, as Hornacek noted that along with prodding the veteran is also one of the first players off the bench celebrating when someone does something well.

“All those little things kind of give these guys in the locker room an idea of hey, this is how it should be,” the coach said.

But while the idea of leadership is nice and often talked about when things are not going well for a team, if the Suns are to push for a playoff spot it will be more because of the talent on the roster.

Along with Chandler, the team added Sonny Weems, Mirza Teletovic, Ronnie Price, Jon Leuer, Cory Jefferson and Devin Booker to a roster that already included Eric Bledsoe, Knight, Tucker, T.J. Warren, Alex Len, Archie Goodwin and Markieff Morris.

Compared to last year’s team, Hornacek said this group is a better mix of youth and experience, which will help the team get through the kind of rough patches that are bound to come up over the course of the season.

“They won’t get panicked when something goes bad, they’ll just keep playing,” he said. “We just feel we have a better balance of age and a better balance of positioning this year to make a run at it.”

 

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