Jeff Hornacek’s success as a rookie coach had a lot to do with the roster provided to him by general manager Ryan McDonough. That relationship and shared vision between the two is first and foremost the reason for the Phoenix Suns’ turnaround in 2013-14.
It directly led to Hornacek integrating Channing Frye with a young roster, utilizing untested Miles Plumlee as a starter for all but two games this season and of course, for melding Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe together in a small backcourt. Hornacek also got a career year out of Gerald Green and finally pushed the right buttons with the Morris twins. Thanks to Hornacek, Ish Smith played huge role on a 48-win team.
But Hornacek didn’t win the 2014 NBA Coach of the Year award.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich earned his third Coach of the Year award on Tuesday after leading the San Antonio Spurs to a 62-20 regular season record, and that meant Hornacek came in second place.
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Popovich earned 57 first-place votes and 380 total points from a cast of 124 sportswriters and broadcasters while Hornacek garnered 37 first-place votes and 339 total points.
It’s a surprise Pop won because, well, he could theoretically win the award every year. Meanwhile, the rest of the league full of coaching turnover had so many stories of success. From Thibs hitting the on-switch without Derrick Rose in Chicago, to Dwane Casey finally getting his Raptors to the postseason, to Steve Clifford and Hornacek helping their teams to drastic improvements in their first seasons, there was a lot of praise to go around.
Within the Suns organization, Hornacek of course got symbolic Coach of the Year votes from a number of his players, especially from point guard Goran Dragic.
“He’s vocal. He’s calm. He understands the game because he played that game,” Dragic said. “That makes it even easier for us because he understands us. Sometimes some players, if they’re hurt or something, they say, ‘OK, I’m not going to play.’ For Jeff, even if I had one leg, I’d play for him. He gave me a lot.
“He’s not only a coach for us, he’s a friend, too. That’s what brings players and coaches closer, and then you know, you would do anything for the coaches.”
The awards keep rolling out, but since Hornacek came in second in the COY vote, it would be surprising to see McDonough get the nod for the Executive of the Year award. Most people probably see the Suns’ success this season as a fluke, an accident. That leaves any feel-good consolation prize for Phoenix likely coming in the Most Improved Player award — Dragic is a key player in that race.