PHOENIX — The new general manager quickly demonstrated that personnel guys do operate in beast mode.
The roster received an ambush makeover.
The cap room was given an upgraded blueprint, and the draft picks were stockpiled.
A new coaching staff was established, and the fan base embraced the prevailing plan.
With this alignment of crucial, franchise-restoring variables complete, Jeff Hornacek begins his first training camp as an NBA head coach.
During his busy tour at Monday’s media-day event, the Suns’ sideline boss took time to field questions from Fox Sports Arizona.
FOX Sports Arizona: Does it seem like a long time since you were hired and that camp would never get here, or would you like more time to prepare?
Hornacek: I’m ready to go. I think all of our guys are itichin’ … we’ve been here for the last three months working on things. Players have been in for the last three weeks to a month playing. We finally got Goran (Dragic) back from Europe and (Marcin) Gortat. We’re just all excited to get it rollin’.
FOX Sports Arizona: What is the most important thing you and the coaching staff need to accomplish at camp?
Hornacek: We keep talking about hard work and teamwork. That’s the stuff we need to establish, and we can grow from there. If we can get those two things down and get to where we’re playing for all 48 minutes, we’ll win our fair share of games and be able to improve.
FOX Sports Arizona: Fans are excited to have you back in Phoenix and about the new players on the Suns’ roster. But between national predictions and anticipation from the fans — who still don’t want you to win too many games and have a lower draft pick — does it feel odd to be in this situation?
Hornacek: Well, it is odd. Obviously, no one wants us to lose games. We’re not going out there sayin’ ‘We want to get this better draft pick.’ If we can go out a win 45 or 50 games, we’re going to go out there and try to do it. We’re going to try to win every game we can win. FOX Sports Arizona: Fans sometimes forget coaches and players are in it to win, not set up a higher draft pick. Hornacek: A lot of responsibility is on our players. They had a tough year last year, the returning guys that we have. And I’m sure they’re coming out here with a different attitude. I’m sure they don’t want that to happen again. But we’re young, and we need some of those guys to develop and have a fine balance there. FOX Sports Arizona: To win at a high level in this league, teams have to play well at both ends. Some teams have so-called defensive coordinators to organize efforts on that side of the ball, and you have (assistant coach Mike) Longabardi here now in that capacity. But doesn’t the focus for any defensive upgrade still have come from you?
Hornacek: Absolutely. But all of us (coaches) have that focus. I played for Jerry Sloan. (Assistant coach) Jerry Sichting played in Boston, where they played some defense. We all know the little things that need to be done. Mike’s the organizing one that has a way to teach all of it and explain it to the guys. And between all of us, defense is a big focus. That’s how you stay in games. Hopefully, we shoot a lot better than we did last year. But if we can focus on defense, we can stay in games. FOX Sports Arizona: Based on what you’ve seen in workouts and what you know about the players who haven’t been here yet, do you expect the team to be considerably better defensively this year?
Hornacek: I think so … (laughing) because I don’t think they were very good last year. So we’ll definitely improve with effort and pressure the ball little bit more. With a guy like (guard) Eric Bledsoe, when he’s out there on the ball, he can really put some pressure on. Goran gets a lot of steals. I think with us putting some defensive pressure on the guards, then the inside play won’t be so easy.
FOX Sports Arizona: In what ways has the league changed the most since you were a player?
Hornacek: I think it’s just focus on the outside game. There still are a handful of teams that have true power forwards. But a lot of them have the stretch four now.
Back in the day, there were a few of those teams. But the era I played in, even in the later years, we didn’t shoot a ton of threes. Guys are shooting that shot a lot more … they practice it a lot more.
You look at those effective field goals (percentages). It’s always a fine line. Last year, I think we (the NBA) had 14 of 16 playoff teams that had an effective field goal of around 48 percent or above. Back in the day, we didn’t shoot a lot of threes because we were shooting 50 percent from the field. My Utah team shot 50 percent just regular field-goal percentage. There’s a couple ways to get to that effective field-goal percentage … threes seem to be the way now for a lot of teams.
FOX Sports Arizona: Which things are you most interested in finding out about your team during training camp?
Hornacek: We need to see it all. Whenever you’re a new coaching staff, we knew these guys from playing against them before. But until you’re there, day in day out and see the little things they can and what they can’t do … all of us have been around winning teams, so we know what to expect and what to look for. We’re looking for guys that are winners, so that’s the big thing in training camp, looking to see who those guys are.
FOX Sports Arizona: Every NBA team has peaks and valleys over the course of a season. When something goes a bit sideways, is there one person you call first just to bounce things off of?
Hornacek: I think we’ve all been through it. My first year here in Phoenix, we saw how bad it went. I played on a bad Philadelphia team. I think everybody’s been through it and knows. There may be guys we call and have a sounding board, but I think we’ll be able to deal with it pretty good and keep our guys focused. We can’t worry about that.