What: Phoenix Suns (7-17) versus New York Knicks (14-10)
When: 7:00 PM AZ time
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, AZ
Watch: FoxSports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM Arizona Sports
Former Suns coach Jeff Hornacek landed squarely on his feet after getting fired from the Suns. He went from being the lowest paid coach to getting more money to coach a more talented team.
Now, he will likely be the next in line to taste the playoffs after getting ousted from the Valley. He’s trying to join Goran Dragic (Heat), Isaiah Thomas (Celtics), Marcus Morris (Detroit), Channing Frye (Cavaliers) and others who got the playoffs within a season of being kicked out.
Meanwhile, those two stayed - namely Alex Len, Eric Bledsoe and P.J. Tucker as the only three from Hornacek’s opening night roster in 2013 still on the team four years later - have yet to sniff the playoffs and won’t reach that mark this year either.
Jeff Hornacek took over a more talented, veteran roster in New York, with three starters in their 30s plus wunderkind 7-footer in Kristaps Porzingis. So far, he’s got them playing at a winning pace (14-10, 3rd place in the East) and headed straight for his first playoff appearance as a head coach.
Today, though, he’s back in the Valley answering questions about his stint here. He started strong in Phoenix too, by fashioning a winning record in 2013-14 with a hodgepodge roster and coming in second for Coach of the Year while his GM, Ryan McDonough, came in second as Executive of the Year.
Since then, it all came crashing down. First the affable Hornacek couldn’t control the locker room. All the players liked him, and liked playing for him, but he couldn’t corral the discipline his players would, or wouldn’t, exhibit. And before the GM changed the right players, he changed the coach.
“I mean, it’s never a good thing to get fired, but you also understand as coaches it’s going to happen at some point,” Hornacek said this week in an article implying he can stick out his tongue at McDonough. “So there’s not many (Gregg Popoviches) who stay around the same team. Jerry Sloan for so many years. So you just kind of understand that.”
He’s got the Knicks playing with their best record in years (14-10) and starting to flex their muscles in a once-again top heavy East that might allow one more former Sun to reach the playoffs.
Their offense ranks 11th in the NBA behind 20-point scorer Porzingis and 22-point scorer Carmelo Anthony. Derrick Rose has been relatively healthy too, and producing at a solid 17/4/4 clip. Brandon Jennings has been great off the bench as sixth man playing the role that the Suns’ Brandon Knight is expected to play.
Jennings has a message for Phoenix.
“Every game’s a must-win,” Brandon Jennings said. “But for Jeff, for sure, we want to win one for Jeff in Phoenix.”
I’m kicking myself right now for failing to ask Ryan McDonough about Hornacek when we got that exclusive interview on Sunday. But then again, McDonough would have simply praised Hornacek for his success and declined to get into the past anyway.
Coming off an overtime loss to the Pelicans, the 7-17 Suns are struggling not only for wins but for relevance. It could be argued that the Suns are the least-relevant team in the league at this point. Every other team either has a better storyline, better “best player” or better winning percentage.
New coach Earl Watson has command of that locker room, and McDonough has learned some lessons about character-building among role players, with the additions of Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa. But team-building is still a work in progress for one of the youngest teams in the NBA in terms of “playing age” (average age weighted by minutes played).
Tonight, it’s possible we will see T.J. Warren back in the fold after playing five-on-five yesterday for the first time in weeks, but most likely he will play later this week. Speaking of T.J., McD wouldn’t elaborate on Warren’s mysterious injury but said that they wanted to use a ton of caution with him to make sure he was right before bringing him back.
I have several predictions:
- I predict that Suns fans will spend most of the night drooling over Kristaps Porzingis
- In the same breath, those fans will either lament that Dragan Bender will never be as good or proclaim that he IS but Watson won’t give him the right opportunity
- I also predict that fans will complain all night about how Hornacek should not have been fired, while complaining that the Knicks offense looks so much better than the Suns’
- Finally, I predict a Knicks win. Because that’s what happens when former Suns come back to the valley for their first time