BY: ED COLE
PHOENIX – One of the hardest things Suns general manger Ryan McDonough’s had to do since he took his post was going to the team’s ownership and recommending that Jeff Hornacek be relieved of his duties as head coach.
It was extremely hard for McDonough to come to that decision, but it was very much a necessary one, because things were toxic between Hornacek and the players, and there was no light at the end of that smoke-filled tunnel which housed them all.
“I have great respect and admiration for him (Hornacek) as a man, and as a coach,” McDonough said. “He and I became very close over the past few years, and I think part of that made this so hard.”
“It was my recommendation, ultimately it’s ownership’s decision, it’s (Suns’ majority owner) Robert Sarver’s decision, and we decided to make that decision (on) Sunday night after the (Dallas) Mavericks game (91-78 loss),” McDonough said.
Usually, when a head coach is fired, the sentiment among a certain group of people is that the reason why he or she was let go was because they had personal issues with the general manager, or with the players, or with the team’s ownership.
Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to the relationship Hornacek had with McDonough. It was more about the disconnect that Hornacek had with his players, which we’ll get to shortly. As far as the man Jeff Hornacek, McDonough had zero issues with him.
“He’s a tremendous individual who always conducted himself with the highest character, with integrity, and worked his (tail) off to be as effective as he could be at his job, and successful as long as he was with us, and we thank him for that,” McDonough said.
Now, let’s dig deeper into what actually went wrong with Hornacek, McDonough and the Suns from Year One to right now.
In 2013-14 – Hornacek’s first season as Suns head coach – the Suns were one of the talking points of the league, after winning 48 games and coming oh-so-close to making the playoffs. Hornacek came in second to Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich in the voting for NBA Coach of the Year that season, falling 41 votes shy of him. You could hardly ask for more from Hornacek and the Suns in their first season together.
Then came Years Two and Three, which saw the Suns take giant steps backwards, not only in wins and losses, but in team chemistry, which McDonough says was the biggest reason behind Hornacek’s dismissal.
“It was more about how the team was playing, and the fact that we felt like it stopped responding to Jeff (Hornacek), and I’m not sure that’s fair to him,” McDonough said. “This league is not always fair, and I take a lot of responsibility for what’s gone one. I just felt like over the last month, or month and a half, we haven’t been as competitive as we should be. Realizing that some of our best players in Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, in particular, are injured, that makes it challenging to win games, and we know that.”
“It’s difficult for any coach to overcome that,” McDonough said. “I realize Jeff (Hornacek) was in a tough spot, but at the same time, the team wasn’t competing how we hoped it would, and how we think it is capable of competing.”
All the blame, as McDonough laid out two paragraphs ago, wasn’t squarely on Hornacek and his staff. When a team plays as bad as the Suns have toward the end of last season, and during the majority of this current season, the fingers of blame have to point in many different directions, not just in Hornacek’s general area.
“What’s happened recently has been a collective failure,” McDonough said. “All of us have not done well enough, and that starts with ownership, (and it) goes to the front office, the coaching staff, the training staff and the players. We need to do better.”
McDonough was very blunt with the media on Tuesday when he said that the team lacked discipline and accountability – two things that are key to any team’s success. He was very frustrated in the fact that he, and interim head coach Earl Watson, had to have a meeting with the players on Tuesday morning to let them know that they’re all on notice. From what McDonough let be known, it was a matter of each and every man having to take a long look in the mirror at themselves and ask themselves, “Is the Phoenix Suns a team that I deserve to be on?”
“We’re all professionals, they’re all professionals. They’re well compensated to play a game that a lot of people around the world would die to play at this level and make the kind of money they’re making,” McDonough said. “So yeah, it is frustrating. We’re certainly not the first NBA team that’s gone through a little bit of this, and we won’t be the last team to go through it, but it is frustrating when your team’s going through it, and your players aren’t responding as well as you hope they would, and they’re not playing as hard as you think they’re capable of playing.”
“Our young players need to learn that they’re gonna be held accountable. If they don’t play the right way, they won’t play as much, or at all,” McDonough said. “We’re gonna try to put the steps in place to put a blueprint in place moving forward.”