Hornacek not to blame for Suns' struggles

BY foxsports • December 18, 2014

A five-point win over the Charlotte Hornets does not qualify as an official impetus for the Suns, their fans and professional witnesses to begin turning cartwheels.

But within the boundaries of this come-from-behind triumph in North Carolina we were reminded why patience and context are important during an 82-game, NBA season.

During Wednesday night's telecast on Fox Sports Arizona, Suns analyst Eddie Johnson provided sage advice to any naysayers by pointing out how several expected powerhouses have needed time to hit their strides.

Anyway, with Phoenix's controversial backcourt quartet combining for 74 of the team's 111 points, it's easier to understand the method behind what had seemed like position-duplication madness.

Perhaps the most important reminder provided by the Suns' first victory in seven games was the work of Coach Jeff Hornacek.

With the chips way down, again, Hornacek's timely unleashing of small ball late in each half, survival of an untimely verbal lapse from Markieff Morris and reinsertion of P.J. Tucker for the game-clinching rebound all deserve mention.

This response to a 17-point second-quarter deficit can be interpreted as more relevant than usual due to grumbles around town.

When a six-game losing streak interrupts an anticipated skip into Western Conference playoff territory, the coach typically winds up in the critical crosshairs.

Even suggesting, however, that Hornacek's status should be reviewed this close to the beginning of the first season after he changed the franchise's on-court culture is silly. But I've been hearing and reading this nonsense.

Much like NFL quarterbacks, coaches receive inordinate levels of credit and blame. But to any suggestion of making Hornacek the lead culprit in Phoenix's 13-14 start, we should counter with a request for the identity of an available coach who is a guaranteed upgrade.

The environment created by last season's coaching staff enabled every player on the roster to perform to his respective strengths . . . without looking over his shoulder to gauge potential scrutiny from the bench.

Having the freedom to do what he does best (regardless of how dicey that sometimes can be) helped Gerald Green become an important asset. Up and down the roster, this was a familiar factor in why most Suns turned in career years and the team won 48 games.

But now armed with expectation and -- in some cases -- contractual rewards, the same level of us-against-the-world motivation has been missing. Maybe that's human nature. But some seem to prefer holding Hornacek completely responsible for furnishing the individual energy or focus of his players.

Coaching effort isn't exactly the purview of NBA coaches. That's a tricky nugget to find at any level.

What Hornacek, or Gregg Popovich or Doc Rivers can't do is make sure every rotation player hits the floor each night with an appropriate level of focus and intensity.

For better or worse, these guys are professionals. Within the structure of a team's system and attention to detail, a coach is required to put his players in situations to succeed. Executing the game plan -- through awareness, effort and unselfishness -- is on the players.

Hornacek hasn't been perfect. He wasn't perfect last season. But the greatest coaches in NBA history haven't been perfect.

Has his body language or interactions with referees betrayed his frustration with how the season has transpired? They certainly have.

But Suns fans -- and those existing between the blurred lines separating fandom and the fourth estate -- should understand that.

If some of the players have begun to tune him out, that's certainly disturbing. It also is reminder the Suns aren't exactly blessed with an abundance of players offering an advanced feel for the game.

Sure, some of this on-court expertise also takes time.

With this caveat on the table, it should be noted this season's rookies -- Tyler Ennis and T.J. Warren -- have been praised by Hornacek as already possessing those qualities.

Until the rookies are prepared -- or given the opportunity -- to contribute more frequently, the Suns' coaching staff will be criticized when more-seasoned players fail to rotate to help the helper on defense, or communicate on ball screens, or close out halfheartedly to a deadeye shooter, or wait for a screen to be set before attacking on offense, or cut hard, or even run the proper set.

And no matter how often they're instructed to do these things . . . no matter how many times it's drawn up and poorly executed . . . no matter how many times they're held accountable though a reduction in playing time . . . critics will assume these details have been overlooked.

Almost all of these critics, of course, have never coached.

Hornacek has coached and done so at a high level of strategic expertise and confidence-building direction already.

He'll become even better at it, too.

That should continue to happen in Phoenix.

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