Jeff Hornacek Must Grow With The Suns

Apr 7, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek is shown with players during a time out in the fourth quarter of their game against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena. The Hawks won 96-69. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 7, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek is shown with players during a time out in the fourth quarter of their game against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena. The Hawks won 96-69. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports /

It was Jan. 7 when Marcus Morris unleashed a verbal tirade directed towards head coach Jeff Hornacek during a 113-111 victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Morris, who was reportedly upset about Hornacek reprimanding him for a technical foul, visibly lost control of himself and had to be restrained from going after his coach. Despite this incident occurring on national television, Hornacek and the Suns opted not to punish the Morris twin in anyway shape or form.

Nearly three months later, the Suns were eliminated from playoff contention in a 107-104 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Apr. 8.

Make no mistake; there was a direct correlation between these two events.

After coming to the Suns organization from the Utah Jazz two years ago, Jeff Hornacek was praised as both a savior and the franchise’s next great coach when he led a team predicted to win 15 games to within one victory of the playoffs. He was second in Coach Of The Year voting after the Suns finished with a 48-34 record, good enough for a 23-win improvement from the season prior.

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His coaching style fit perfectly with a young, learning team. He rarely showed emotion, always keeping a slight smile on his face as he looked like more of a observer of the Suns than a coach at times. However, it worked tremendously, injecting his players with confidence even when they made mistakes.

Turnover? That’s okay, just get back on defense.

Several missed shots? Keep shooting if you’re open, keep your head up!

Missed defensive assignment? Make sure you talk to your teammates next time and just make up for it on offense!

Of course, I am simply paraphrasing what I believe Hornacek would say to his players, in his naturally soft voice and trademark standing position with a slight smile and his arms crossed.

That approach worked great in his first year. However, the team developed and changed this past year and after regressing to 39-43 record (the Suns’ second losing record in three years).

“I think they understood that it maybe wasn’t the greatest year, but you can learn from it and go to the next year,” Hornacek said after the season.

It is just as crucial that Hornacek learns and grows from this year as well. In a season where, at times, the team simply refused to run the plays he called and showed more motivation to argue with a ref than play with energy, a change in coaching approach could be just what this Suns team needs to start fresh this upcoming season.

Turnover? We cannot be having these, you need to be tuned in to the game.

Missed shots? Stop the one-on-one basketball, we need to pass the damn thing and work it around for the best possible shot.

Defensive coverage blown? If you don’t talk on defense or lose your man one more time, you’re coming out.

That’s the type of coach the Suns need him to be.

The fact of the matter is incidents like the one Marcus Morris had against Hornacek (or the incredible amount of technicals the players received) are not just individual acts of immaturity, they are a microcosm of players not being held accountable and being pushed properly.

Coach Hornacek must demand more from his players and himself as a coach. He needs to hold the Suns more accountable as men and players. He needs to coach with a passion and fire that we have yet to see.

So much has been said about the Suns players and their lack of leadership traits and ability (or lack thereof) to instruct or talk to one another on the court. That criticism is rightfully deserved. However, how much talking and accountability can we expect from players when their own coach rarely shows those traits?

If action is a reflection of leadership, then how much more aggression and energy can we realistically expect the Suns to play with?

The trademark excuse for the Suns the last two seasons has been, “We are a young, learning team.” Well entering their third year of rebuilding and retooling the roster, that will not be accepted anymore and neither should the 24-7 nonchalant demeanor of coach Hornacek.

“You know being called young, that’s over with, I just think we got to take the next step,” Brandan Wright said during exit interviews.

Make no mistake about it, Hornacek is a good, solid coach. But showing some emotion and lighting a fire inside of his players’ bellies every once in a while could make him a GREAT coach.

Yes, players have consistently professed their love for their coach, but do they respect him as their coach and leader?

The answer to that question and Hornacek’s demeanor may prove to be the difference between the Suns taking the next step or missing the playoffs for the sixth straight season.

Gerald Bourguet contributed to this story.

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