Hornacek, young Suns begin big rebuilding effort
After the second-worst season in their history, the Phoenix Suns are embarking on a massive rebuilding effort.
It will take some time, and patience will be required for Jeff Hornacek in his first stint as an NBA head coach.
New general manager Ryan McDonough has jettisoned salary, bought out troublesome Michael Beasley and filled the roster with young players.
Hornacek, who quickly won over the team with his likable personality and penchant for teaching not yelling, simply wants a team that operates at a fast pace, plays defense, works hard and steadily improves.
Any wins will be a welcome byproduct.
''It is a process,'' center Marcin Gortat said. ''Some people have to realize that to build a good team, a contender team, you need two years for that. The fans and management should be excited. We are actually moving in a really good direction right now.''
Only six players remain from a squad that won 25 games and compiled the worst record in the Western Conference and second-worst in the franchise's history. Only the team's inaugural season was more futile.
Here are five things to watch as the Suns try to begin this monumental process.
TWO POINT GUARDS: Hornacek plans to start two point guards in Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers. ''They'll probably be out there a lot together but they both need rest so there will be a lot of times there will be one of them on the floor,'' Hornacek said. ''It gives us a lot of options at the guard spot in how we play.'' Dragic has played some at the two-guard spot and figures the pairing with Bledsoe will work well. ''Like Jeff told us, whoever gets the ball is going to run the show and the other guy has to run,'' Dragic said.
FRYE'S RETURN: The biggest and most pleasant surprise of the preseason was how quickly Channing Frye has come back after sitting out an entire season for treatment of an enlarged heart. The 6-foot-11 forward-center, a career 39 percent 3-point shooter, can stretch the floor with his scoring ability. At 31, he's the oldest player on the team and his leadership should also come in handy. ''He pushed himself,'' Hornacek said. ''I was surprised in training camp. I thought he would get into it slowly and do a couple of things but he kept pushing through stuff, rarely sat out.'' When training camp began, Frye estimated he would be playing by December. He wound up playing in the second preseason game and expects to be ready for the opener. ''I just continued to push myself and here I am,'' he said. ''That's the last time I make predictions.''
THE YOUNGSTERS: The Suns will try to persistently work their two first-round draft picks into the mix and live with the inevitable mistakes as part of the growing process. Seven-foot-1 Alex Len, the fifth overall pick in the draft, is just 20. Point guard Archie Goodwin, the 29th overall selection, is barely 19. They and the other young players on the roster will require plenty of teaching. ''There's always something,'' Hornacek said. ''We've got to get them to watch a lot of tape, sit down with coaches and go over plays, just so they can see it.'' Hornacek liked the response he got from the players in the preseason.
PLUMLEE'S CHANCE: Miles Plumlee barely got off the bench for the deep, talented Indiana Pacers, but after he came to Phoenix in the Luis Scola trade, the Suns like what they've seen of the 6-11 big man and he will be part of the rotation. ''He's proven through preseason and exhibition games that he deserves minutes,'' Hornacek said, ''especially at the five spot. If we have a bunch of shooters, the way he rolls to the basket, we can spread the floor and the way our point guards pass the ball, that will put a lot of pressure on teams.'' With four centers on the roster, Hornacek plans to use Gortat and Plumlee some at power forward.
GORTAT'S FUTURE: Gortat talks about the great start the team is having to the rebuilding campaign, but there's a strong possibility he won't be around to see it to fruition. The experienced center could be a valuable trade commodity as McDonough continues to reshape the roster. Gortat knows it's a possibility. ''I love Phoenix, I love this organization, I love these guys in the locker room and I would love to be here,'' he said, ''but if management decides to go in a different direction, I will totally understand that. There will be no hard feelings because I understand the business and I know what they're trying to do here.''
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