With the Phoenix Suns at 14-35 on the season and hurtling headlong into a primo 2016 lottery pick, the decision was made to cut ties with head coach and former standout guard Jeff Hornacek, with the interim (has there ever been a more appropriate use of the word?) gig going to former marginally-talented NBA point guard Earl Watson.
While it's certainly no surprise to see Hornacek get the axe with the franchise running out of people to blame for their soon-to-be sixth straight season without extra basketball, what was a bit surprising was the timing. After the infamous loss at home to the Sixers, the front office and ownership decided to keep Hornacek aboard, but strip him of his top assistants and line up potential interim candidates in the event of his inevitable failure.
The move was perceived as a 'last chance' of sorts for Hornacek to meld this mediocre roster into a playoff team, even though Eric Bledsoe -- far and away the team's best player -- had just suffered another meniscus tear.
Apparently Hornacek didn't get any sympathy for the fact that the closest thing to a healthy point guard on his roster might be Jordan McRae, fresh from his D-League call-up, and his fate was sealed following Sunday's loss to the Mavericks, which wasn't even in the top-15 of embarrassing defeats the team has suffered this season.
Without further ado, here's what the staff of Bright Side of the Sun has sticking in their craws.
1. Hornacek's tenure was notable for one storybook season (perhaps the only storybook season in NBA history that didn't include a playoff game) and then a murderer's row of disgruntled players, roster redundancies, mismatched talent and of course, no playoffs. All things considered, what is your opinion of Jeff Hornacek as a head coach after these 2 1/2 seasons?
Scott Howard: I don't think I've been terribly quiet on my opinions regarding Jeff Hornacek but for me it's basically this - he's vastly overrated. For some reason everyone wants to give him credit for the 48 win team in 2013-14 but nobody wants to give him any blame for the shitty play that's happened since. I think from a technical perspective he knows what he's doing - you don't accidentally exist around the NBA for so many years if you're clueless. But I'm not sure he can really command respect from a team and I'm not sure he's the best guy to lead a team that is anything other than a veteran team that polices themselves. My stance on him is similar to my stance on Alvin Gentry - he's either a good assistant or a head coach of a team that's already good. I also think he gets a bit of a pass from people because he's a nice guy and a beloved former Sun. Harsh? Probably. But I guess we won't know until he gets his next gig.
Geoff Allen: I think Hornacek lost the locker room, and in my book that's one of the strongest indicators of a coach's abilities. You can't have your players tuning you out. Hornacek seems like he he's fine with the X's and O's, but I never felt like he handled rotation minutes particularly well, or handled the players all that well period.
Kat: I love Jeff as a person and I still like him quite a lot as a coach. My thinking is, that in his first season here he had full reigns of the team. He put guys he had available in positions to succeed with an NBA requisite nowadays - fast paced system that was also loads of fun to watch. That sounds like a great coach to me. I mean he came in 2nd for Coach of the Year. His problems started when the front office changed something that was working into something that could only work if.. If that, if this.. We know the ifs.
Jeff became a victim of front office decisions. I don't think there's a coach out there that could ever convince Isaiah Thomas to happily come off the bench. Considering he's an All-Star reserve in the East this year IT probably had a point. I don't think there's anyone on earth that could talk some sense into the Morris twins, especially after trading one away. And it was beyond optimistic to think Shaqtin' A Fool MVP nominee 2014/15 Brandon Knight would become the cornerstone we'd want/need him to be. Nothing against Brandon here, some people are just clumsy at inopportune times - I feel his pain. None of those things were Jeff's fault and the decisions that led to them were out of his control anyway. Yes, Jeff is a good coach. His situation was just impossible.
Sean: Not enough evidence. Hornacek had one very good season as a Suns' head coach before the rug was yanked out from under him. He's dealt with disgruntled players and catastrophic injuries throughout the majority of his tenure in Phoenix. I certainly don't think Jeff was the problem with the Suns, but I don't necessarily believe he could have been their savior either. I think the Suns firing Hornacek shows that they weren't going to commit to him long-term after the season, and wanted to experiment during the second half of this season to see what was possible.
Keith: Command of the locker room is useless without an understanding of the Xs and Os, and vice versa. Jeff Hornacek could be a basketball wizard for all I know, but clearly his leadership skills fall far short of being able to manage this group. Many will say that he was dealt an unwinnable hand, and perhaps they're right. But that alone is not reason enough to keep a coach around. I like Hornacek, and I wish it had worked out. It's time for him to go, but it wouldn't bother me to see him successful elsewhere.
2. Earl Watson was named interim head coach to see the rest of this disastrous season to its merciful end, and the similarities between his and Lindsey Hunter's situation in 2013 are impossible to ignore. Do you feel like the right move was made in the wake of Hornacek's departure, or should the team have looked elsewhere? Or does it even matter?
Scott Howard: It doesn't matter. My primary goals for the rest of the season are (1) don't screw up Devin Booker and (2) don't do anything to impact (1). I refuse to say more.
GA: The right move flew out the window when Longabardi and Sichting were let go a month ago. At this point, why not give Earl Watson a try? Its not like he can do any harm. And, in what is quietly I think a really good move, he brought in a solid veteran assistant coach in Bob Hill. Hill is perfect as an experienced presence who Watson can lean on, and who hopefully can help steady the locker room.
Kat: It doesn't matter much who coaches the Suns right now. There's a dark omen in that locker room called Markieff Morris and really bad habits that have been implementing themselves over the last few months. One person won't make great enough impact. Until the Suns get rid of Keef there's no point in bringing anyone new into this mess.
Sean: I think the Suns recognize that this is a lost season, and are willing to throw Watson to the wolves at this point, rather than damage the reputation of their head coach to be named this off-season. If Watson somehow magically turns this ship around and wins a bunch of games, then great...He can stay. But in the more likely scenario that the Suns continue their descent to the depths of this seemingly bottomless pit of despair, then they can easily replace him with someone more qualified once they make substantial changes to personnel, and perhaps the front office as well.
Keith: It doesn't matter. I do wish that Longabardi was still around. If Watson can get through the rest of this season without anybody getting hurt and keeps team felonies to a minimum, I think we can say it's a success. If he is able to get a little more effort and enthusiasm out of these guys comparable to what we've seen the last couple of months, perhaps it can take a small step towards repairing the fractured relationship between the team and the fans.
3. Some obvious candidates for the permanent gig are Tom Thibodeau, Luke Walton and a former Golden State head coach who's name I am neglecting to mention for fear that it might come true. Assuming that Watson won't be patrolling the sidelines when the 2016/17 season kicks off, do you have a preferred candidate in mind?
Scott Howard: I want Tom Thibodeau in the worst way. This franchise is not in great shape. The core players on the roster are young and still developing - I think they need someone who is going to drill defensive principles into their heads and make it a part of their DNA. I get that most people feel like the biggest drawback to Thibs is that he's going to wear out the Suns players but my interest is in making those players you know, good.....before I worry about whether or not they're worn out. My nightmare scenario is the Suns hiring someone for the full time job who has no experience - like giving Earl Watson the job.
GA: I want some one with a track record of development, and I want someone who is known as an offensive guru. I would actually love to see the Suns bring back a former assistant - Igor Kokoskov. Kokoskov was an assistant under Gentry. For the last two seasons, he has worked with Orlando and Utah, two teams in rebuilding mode with a lot of young players. I think he'd be a good fit, his age is a plus (44), and generally I think its the right type of move.
Kat: Sorry Geoff, you can't have Kokoskov. I need him for the Slovenian national team this year and I can't have him distracted.
I don't really have a candidate in mind. Someone strict, but likeable with a fun system. Too much to ask? Can we lure Steve Kerr away with candy or something?
Sean: I think Thibodeau makes a lot of sense. The Suns have skated by with little accountability or care for too long, and a disciplinarian/defensive-minded coach like Thibs may be just what the doctor ordered. Please no "he who shall not be mentioned" or Luke Walton though...thanks in advance.
Keith: Thibs. Asses need to be kicked. I think he's best suited for that job.
4. Since we can safely put the idea of playoffs out of our minds, or even tangential improvement in the standings, what specifically would you like to see from this Suns team in the latter half of the season?
Scott Howard: I don't want the young players like Devin Booker, Alex Len, and TJ Warren to get poisoned and have their spirits broken. Beyond that I'd like to see Tyson Chandler, Markieff Morris, and PJ Tucker traded. OK maybe not all of them but at least 2 of them. I guess we can keep 1 veteran. There really aren't a lot of reasons to watch the rest of the season. Am I supposed to say that on the Suns fan site? Shit. OK - the 3 point contest! The trade deadline! The draft lottery selection show! I don't know, read the next guy's opinion.
GA: I want to see the young guys sharing the court more frequently - Booker, Archie, TJ and Len. In the month of January, as the team slid into abject terribleness, some of this has started to happen, and Booker, Archie and Len are sharing the court more. However, I want to see all four. So far, in that same month, those four have only shared the court for 15 minutes (they're a net -13 in points). I'd like to see that minute total double. Lets see how well these pieces actually work together. Figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are as a unit. If you're going to commit to developing these guys, then find out how they click offensively and defensively as a unit and then hire your staff this summer, and more importantly sign your new supporting cast, with those strengths and weaknesses in mind.
Kat: A Markieff Morris trade. A little tingling with the roster. Ryan McDonough's resignation. A top 5 pick. In that order. Oh, and Devin Booker shots.
Sean: Pick a direction. If you can't do that right now then at least acquire some players who can help in the future, and get rid of the headache that has outlasted the former head coach. Right now, I think any player could be traded for the right price, and that's fine. The issue is that the Suns are spinning their wheels and going nowhere. What is this team's identity? They don't have one, and that's a problem. But it may not be something that can be fixed this season, regardless. So at least do something to improve the roster.
Keith: As a fan, without thinking about next season or the future, I just want to see Devin Booker shoot. Give him all the shots he wants. Right now that's the only thing that makes this team watchable. That doesn't mean I don't see the potential in players like TJ and Alex, but consistently Devin is the only significant pick-me-up during these awful games. He's like the prize at the bottom of the cereal box. But the cereal is terrible. It's not even in a box, it's the super generic brand that just comes in a bag.
5. The Suns have finally bottomed out after their memorable 2013/14 season, and are now reaching depths to which Lance Blanks couldn't even aspire. Is Ryan McDonough next on the hot seat? Should he be?
Scott Howard: McDonough has made some pretty bad moves but man, he's drafted well. He's the guy I want making the Suns Top 5 pick in June (and the late 1st round pick coming from Cleveland) because realistically I think he'll find the Suns a difference maker - something they need in the worst possible way. Obviously the elephant in the room are some of the relatively brutal trades McDonough has made - and there's no reason to do anything other than call a spade a spade. I say he gets 1 more year to see if he can put a team together that's headed the right direction. I'll hope that he's able to learn from his mistakes.
GA: I don't like McDonough as a GM. As Scott mentioned, some of his trades have been unequivocally flabbergasting. I think Scott may be giving him some more credit in drafting than I do. I think McDonough needs a shorter leash next season. I'd be in favor of bringing in a new President of Basketball Operations (the position has remained vacant since Babby's reassignment), someone who could help rebuild trust between the front office and the players and perhaps help diminish McDonough's questionable qualities. I think a former player would be ideal, and someone with front office experience. Shareef Abdur-Rahim is an option who is young but has some background at both the NBA and D-League level; Geoff Petrie and Joe Dumars are both options as well.
Kat: Yes. Fire McDonough! But only after the end of the season. Because I want to spend these last months blaming him and only him for the situation we're in (+ I'm kinda curious to see what he gets for Keff). We've blamed players, we've blamed coaches, we've blamed the owner. And now it's time to blame the person who got us into this mess. He signed IT to a great contract with a lie of "we want you" and then traded him away for not much, he signed the Morris twins to great contracts with the universal understanding that they were signing to stay together - which was optimistic - but still you can't split away a FOE without at least telling the FOEs, he got his hand forced into a trade with Dragić which is bad for your business image whoever's side you're on, he traded the Lakers top5 pick for Brandon Knight,.. Anyway, bad faith business all around with a dash of attention diversion. Why would players respect an organisation that does not respect them and/or their peers. The Suns need a new image that Ryan can't be part of.
Sean: McDonough has done pretty well at drafting, though I'm not sure we can hang our hats on that alone. He also has some misses, like passing over Gary Harris for Tyler Ennis (we hardly knew ya). As far as running the team, he has to be held responsible...certainly more than Hornacek was. You can't trade away Markieff's twin and not expect inevitable chaos...didn't everyone except McDonough realize that? And even after you brought in Thomas and pissed off Goran, You can't trade him away on a great four-year contract for pennies on the dollar, and bring back a player who may not be as good only to sign him to a contract worth double. Those aren't good moves from the GM, and those deals are at the very heart of the issues plaguing this team right now. Unless Ryan makes a blockbuster move or two before the deadline to salvage this mess in some way, he should be the next out the door this off-season.
Keith: Until this team becomes relevant in some fashion, there should always be someone on the "hot seat." Now it's McDonough's turn. Right now I can't think of the moves that would be significant enough for him to keep his job. Like Sean said, those moves would have to be nothing short of "blockbuster." In the absence of such a move, I think it's just logical to make the housecleaning complete and completely start over. Ask me again this summer.