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Jazz Legend Burned By Bad Suns, Survives Shakeup!

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Jeff Hornacek starred in Phoenix then reached “Jersey Retirement” status for his play in Utah. Now, as his #14 hangs above the Jazz home court, ESPN.com’s Mark Stein reports Suns management will NOT hang Hornacek out to dry in the Valley of the Sun.

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Yahoo Sports reports “After owner Robert Sarver and general manager Ryan McDonough met with starting players and coaching staff on Sunday, management has fired two assistant coaches close to head coach Jeff Hornacek.”

Assistant’s  Mike Longabardi (Suns Defensive coordinator, did same for Doc Rivers when Boston had league’s top defensive team in 2011-2012) and Jerry Sichting both fired, former Jazzman Earl Watson (known for his toughness and no-nonsense coaching) will bump up to bench assistant and former NBA D-League head coach Nate Bjorkgren also joins Hornacek’s bench coaches. ESPN.com’s Sunday report indicated Hornacek could be gone since “the team is no longer responding to him.” Now it’s apparent with the season circling the drain (especially now that star point guard Eric Bledsoe’s out indefinitely, facing surgery on a torn Meniscus in his left knee)

Phoenix will give Hornacek, the immensely popular face of the franchise, another shot with more NBA-savvy coaches and strict marching orders.

ESPN’s Stein wrote Monday morning “It is believed that the Suns are taking this measure instead to give Hornacek, who is held in high esteem by owner Robert Sarver, another chance to turn the club around.” It’s no secret Sarver and his management team didn’t extend Hornacek’s contract this season, leaving him somewhat twisting in the wind, coaching in the last year of his contract and no doubt the players know what that means, basically Hornacek must earn an extension and now that message has been sent loud and clear. Fellow former Jazzman Ronnie Price, refused to pile on Hornacek. Price didn’t sugarcoat when he pointed his finger at he and his teammates. “It’s not his (Hornacek’s) fault. Coaches are busting their tail, telling us everything we need to hear about what we’re doing, pretty good game plans, so it’s on us to carry that on to the court.” 

Paul Coro covers the Suns for AZCentral (Arizona Republic Media) and he tells me the team IS as bad as they look. “There were high expectations for this team coming in, that they would be a playoff team, that they had corrected things with the chemistry and defensively got get them to where they needed to be and it has not panned out whatsoever, they’re at the bottom of the league in opponent FG percentage and the offense has been wildly inconsistent. The only consistency is that they don’t shoot very well.” 

A 7-5 start was encouraging but since it’s been on-court cluster of catastrophes. Losing 15 of their next 20 spiked by Saturday’s unacceptable home loss to a 1-win Sixers team (Philly’s first road win since last March) that didn’t have it’s leading scorer (Jahlil Okafor) that night.

Coach Hornacek didn’t sugarcoat it post game “Obviously it’s a probably a low point for us.” Veteran P. J. Tucker was one of few players who would stare down the barrel of the carnage. “Pretty embarrassing, point blank. If something doesn’t change quick, it could get really ugly, really fast!”  Only the Kings and Lakers are allowing more than the 105.4 points Phoenix gives up night in and night out.

Two and a half years ago Hornacek left Tyrone Corbin’s bench to become the Suns head coach, Jeff’s return to his home stomping grounds started serendipitously with a near 50 win season but in 2012-2013,  but back then, 48 wins didn’t get you into the Wicked West playoffs.

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Last season went up in smoke as Hornacek shuttled talented point guards in and out. Bringing current Celtic Isaiah Thomas in, part of an ugly (as it turned out) 3-headed point guard monster. Thomas was dealt to Boston, Goran Dragic began lobbying for a trade and wound up in Miami where he signed a Max-money deal in the Summer then the Suns brought Brandon Knight in, teamed him with Bledsoe forming an expensive Max-Dollar backcourt.

The Suns sitch is about to get worse as they host LeBron James and his Eastern Finalist Cavs tonight, then go back-to-back at San Antonio and OKC Wednesday, Thursday, starting a brutal 5 games in 7 nights stretch that finishes with back-to-backs in Sacramento and LA (Lakers) Saturday and Sunday.  It looks like a longshot that Hornacek will ultimately turn it all around in Phoenix, the next head coach might just be Earl Watson but for now, Hornacek has been given a little more time.