Jeff Hornacek played six seasons for the Suns
from 1986 to 1992. (Brian Drake/Getty Images)
Jazz assistant coach Jeff Hornacek has been named head coach of the Suns.
"We are thrilled to introduce Jeff Hornacek as the new head coach of the Phoenix Suns," Suns GM Ryan McDonough said in a statement Tuesday. "Jeff has all of the qualities we were looking for in a head coach — he is a leader, a teacher and a student of the game. Jeff's name has been high on our list ever since my first interview with the Suns. His successes as a player and as an assistant coach, along with his deep ties to this franchise and this community, give us confidence that he will do great things as the next head coach of the Phoenix Suns."
The Arizona Republic and Yahoo! Sports first reported Sunday that McDonough had tapped Hornacek as the replacement for interim coach Lindsey Hunter, who took over for former coach Alvin Gentry back in January.
CBSSports.com reported that Hornacek's deal is worth $6 million over three years and includes a team option for a fourth year.
Hornacek has served as an assistant under coach Tyrone Corbin in Utah since Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan abruptly retired during the 2010-11 season. He also interviewed for the Bobcats' coaching job earlier this month.
The match between organization and coach is a logical one. Hornacek brings with him an impeccable reputation, ties to the Suns dating back to his playing days, the credibility of being a former player and multiple years of experience as a developer of young talent. All will be useful to the Suns, who are in the midst of a desperately-needed basketball operations makeover.
On the flip side, Hornacek gets his first crack at the big job with some fairly clear marching orders: steer the ship through what's sure to be a few years of choppy waters. Making the jump from the ranks of assistant to the head spot is never an easy one, with so many former head coaches constantly looming as candidates, and Phoenix is a desirable market that offers a history of postseason success and a fair amount of patience with recent former coaches Mike D'Antoni and Gentry, who each lasted more than three seasons. The Point Forward ranked the Suns in the middle of the pack in a recent survey of open coaching positions.
Hornacek will inherit a bit of a mess. McDonough took over for former GM Lance Blanks, who was fired in April after the Suns finished 25-57, the worst record in the Western Conference. Blanks' decision to promote Hunter led multiple Suns assistant coaches to leave the organization and reportedly set off a profanity-laced exchange between Blanks and veteran center Jermaine O’Neal. Center Marcin Gortat has publicly complained about his role and there's just no cohesiveness, or that much upside, to the group of players that Blanks assembled. The Suns' roster is arguably the least-talented in the league and, to make matters worse, police in Arizona announced earlier this month that forward Michael Beasley is under investigation for an alleged sexual assault.
The hiring of Hornacek should complete the organization's heavy lifting off the court. The Suns granted president Lon Babby a two-year contract extension back in April and hired McDonough, formerly the assistant GM of the Celtics, earlier this month. The franchise will now look to undertake a full-scale roster rebuilding effort which will start in the upcoming NBA draft. Phoenix holds two first-round picks -- No. 5 and No. 30 -- this season and a total of 10 picks in the next three drafts combined.
Hornacek, 50, was a second-round selection by the Suns in 1986 and spent the first six seasons of his distinguished playing career in Phoenix. After a brief stop with the Sixers, he later spent six-plus seasons with the Jazz, making two Finals appearances. He holds career averages of 14.5 points and 4.9 asssists and boasts impressive career shooting numbers, connecting on 49.6 percent of his shots, 40.3 percent of his three-pointers and 87.7 percent of his free throws. The Jazz retired his No. 14 jersey in 2002.