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Suns notes: Coaches talk about changes to the staff

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns did a really weird thing this week, reportedly initiated by owner Robert Sarver.

Sarver's impatience is well-documented, and after the tire fire called a Suns loss to the Sixers on Saturday he'd had enough. He reportedly (per coach Hornacek on his weekly radio show) called his top lieutenant, GM Ryan McDonough, and set up a series of meetings with coaches and players to get at the root of their problems.

"Robert and Ryan came in yesterday and had their meetings," Hornacek replied. "So, that's how it started."

Hornacek was not involved in the Sarver/McDonough side of the process, which led to the rumors that he was on the chopping block. But it's clear that Sarver and McD are fans of Hornacek, and that the players don't think Hornacek is the problem. Whatever that problem is.

To the naked eye, the problems manifested themselves in awful execution, undisciplined defense, and lazy body language. Sadly enough, as awful as the Suns have looked, they are still just below the mid-point of NBA teams on offense and defense. I only say that to point out these symptoms may not be the exclusive property of a single NBA franchise.

But the root of the problem is, apparently, unique to the Suns franchise. Somehow, the culprits of the Suns' awful play recently was the work of Hornacek's top assistant coaches of the last two-plus years.

Sure.

I commend the owner and GM for going right to the source - the players and coaches themselves - to get them to voice their concerns and give the top dogs a chance to fix it. I mean, I can't imagine they said "It's Longo and Sichting!", but at least the affected players were being asked, right?

"I didn't know what was going to happen," Tucker said of the private meetings. "It's not my job. For me it's just about the team. The coaches put us in position to win, but for me about the players in this locker room. Playing the right way."

As I suspected, the players put the onus on themselves, as I'm sure the coaches did too. That left the decisions up to Sarver and McDonough.

As a result, the well-respected Jeff Hornacek - seen by most inside and outside the organization as not the problem in Phoenix - stays on a coach, for now, while his coaching staff has been cut in half. Moving into more prominent roles are newbies Nate Bjorkgren and Earl Watson.

Reports had Hornacek "adamantly against" the moves, but when asked on Monday to discuss the changes he seemed settled with it. Hornacek talked about the younger coaches being closer to the players in age, maybe getting more out of them from having worked more closely with them.

But as much as anything, the coaches will provide new voices to players who appeared to have tuned out some of them lately.

"To have some maybe fresh ideas," Hornacek said. "A different voice out there that the guys might respond to, probably led to that change."

Sure, it's possible that one of the league's largest coaching staffs had created a din of noise the players couldn't process. So paring down the staff might be best for all involved. Now, Hornacek, Bkorkgren and Watson will have more work to do but it will be a consolidated effort.

"He's got a good feel for the players in this league," Hornacek said of assistant Watson, "He's a little closer to the guys in age. Maybe he can relate to them a little bit more."

Bjorkgren was just the head coach for some of their youngest players last year in Bakersfield. And he's been a successful coach at the D-League level for years.

About Nate, Hornacek says they are "familiar with what he does, and his enthusiasm."

I talked to Nate Bjorkgren before Monday's game and he is as excited as anything to get going in his elevated position. Whatever the coach wants, he's ready to do. Bjorkgren has always been a huge supporter of Hornacek and that has not changed in any way.

Nate says that his role is expanding and that he will be doing more than before, but he's already been exposed all season to every drill and role in practices and workouts. He says Hornacek has always been that way, helping coaches expand their knowledge and experience. He was quite confident that he and Watson were ready for the expanded role.

About the rest of the season, Hornacek shrugged and said they weren't going to make major changes. How can you, with games coming fast and furious and practice nearly non-existent?

"A lot of the stuff we do is going to be the same," he said. "Just little changes here and there. Guys are going to have to step it up, obviously, with Eric out of the lineup."

It doesn't get any easier for the Suns, who come off a close loss to the Cavaliers only to take a four-game road trip that starts against two of the very best teams in the West - the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Suns next play at home on January 6, against the Charlotte Hornets.