PHOENIX – On May 21, Phoenix Suns general manager Ryan McDonough admitted that it was a complex time. The draft lottery had just been settled and McDonough instead got blitzed by questions about the head coaching search. With so many openings around the NBA, he said, the Suns would have their work cut out for them.
The Suns were introducing their new head coach a week later.
Reports broke five days after the lottery that McDonough had tabbed Jeff Hornacek as the 16th coach in Suns history, and six days later, Paul Coro reported McDonough had hired two highly-respected scouts in Washington Wizards director of player personnel Pat Connelly and former Lakers assistant general manager Ronnie Lester.
The franchise has undergone a good-looking makeover in five weeks since Lance Blanks was fired on April 22.
Just after McDonough’s hire, The Arizona Republic’s Bob Young wrote that hiring Hornacek would be a great first impression for the new GM.
“I wish you just would’ve done what you told me to do when I took the job and hired Jeff,” McDonough said in response to a question by Young. “That would’ve saved me a lot of sleepless nights over the last few nights, and I probably still wouldn’t be living in a hotel if that were the case.”
McDonough has already shown he’s not messing around. Through all the gruntwork, he’s proved he’s capable without president of basketball operations Lon Babby holding his hand. He introduced Hornacek – by “he” I mean he, not Babby, who made a quick introduction on Tuesday and relieved himself to watch the two new hires work their magic at the podium.
So much for the Lance Blanks days.
Suddenly the Suns are ahead of the curve. They hired a general manager first, who then led the charge for a new head coach and a revised scouting staff. This all came before a number of teams – the Clippers, Sixers, Nets, Pistons and Bucks – could handle finding just a coach.
Draft workouts are just starting to ramp up, and Hornacek has already compiled a list of candidates for his assistant positions.
While the results will tell whether McDonough’s hires and draft choices will bring success to the franchise following the worst season since its inaugural year, it sure looks like Phoenix is in a better place than it was just weeks ago.
Remember, this is a two-way street. McDonough had to sell the Suns on Hornacek as much as Hornacek had to sell himself.
“They have not put us in a bad position salary-wise and the ability to go out there and get free agents,” said the Suns coach. “Those guys (Babby and Robert Sarver) have set it up pretty well.
“You have to have a foundation,” Hornacek said of the roster. “Obviously, we’re not at a championship level with this team where we can say we’re happy with this group. But for me as a coach, you come into each training camp and you have no preconceived notions with these guys.”
McDonough pointed to his days in Boston as proof that a team could quickly turn itself around, Hornacek said of his interview process. There are no guarantees, but the Celtics’ past was the obvious hard evidence that Hornacek wasn’t working with the downtrodden franchise that appeared to be in place this past season.
“It’s like coming home,” he said, this after name-dropping Suns legends from Dick Van Arsdale, to Alvan Adams, to Charles Barkley, to Steve Nash.
But the key piece in all this change is McDonough, who got things done and quickly.
Suns courting Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace?
Memphis’ ESPN radio show host Chris Vernon reports that Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace could look into joining the Suns as assistant GM or adviser. The Kings are also inquiring about his services. Should it happen, it’d be another big-time name joining the front office since McDonough took over.
Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace might go to PHX (33 yr old Ryan McDonough is new GM, was in Boston with) – to be an asst GM/ advisor role.
— Chris Vernon (@ChrisVernonShow) May 29, 2013
Hornacek on being traded from the Suns: “They shipped me out of here for Charles. We joked about it several times today – I was part of trading myself. We were in the weight room again Seattle in the playoffs and I was there with Dick Van Arsdale getting ready for a game. Barkley was up on the TV saying he needed to get out of Philadelphia and I said, ‘That’s the guy we need.’ I always said if I was a GM or owner I would make the same trade.”