The Suns are coming off another disappointing season and have missed the playoffs in each of the past three years and four times over the previous five seasons. They were 25-57 in 2012-13, the lowest win total since recording 27 wins in the strike-shortened 1998-99 campaign, and even made a coaching change. Alvin Gentry was replaced by Lindsey Hunter on Jan. 18 after a 13-28 record and the Suns went 12-29 the rest of the way.
Phoenix, which actually became the fourth-fastest franchise in NBA history to reach the 2,000-win mark in January, played worse with Hunter at the controls and made another change in May, bringing in former NBA player Jeff Hornacek as the 10th head coach in team history. Hornacek played 468 games with the Suns from 1986-92 and spent the past three seasons as an assistant coach with the Utah Jazz. The former sharp-shooting guard is aiming to get the Suns back into the playoffs and many believe it was the right move to hire Hornacek.
"It's the right hire. I'm ecstatic because I think it's a tremendous choice for the team," Suns broadcaster and former player Tom Chambers said. "He meets all the credentials and more, and the Valley knows him. I don't think they could have done any better. He's smart. He has a presence. He can coach."
Even Jazz legend and former coach Jerry Sloan said Hornacek was an "astute player who could see things that not everybody else could see" and knew even then he could be a good coach in the league. The Suns are hoping Sloan is right. Hornacek takes over a young team in the re-building process, but should know it's going to take a lot of patience and work to get the Suns back to NBA relevance. The Suns are most likely peering down another last-place finish in the Pacific Division.
Phoenix also made a switch at general manager and appointed Ryan McDonough to the position. McDonough served as the assistant general manager of the Boston Celtics the previous three seasons and the Suns feel fortunate to have him on board.
"Ryan distinguished himself among an impressive group of candidates for our GM position," Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby said. "His natural leadership and communication skills will serve the Suns well. And, his prodigious work ethic and ability to identify talent will enable us to take full advantage of the 10 draft choices, including six in the first round, that we have over the next three years."
The Suns got started in June's draft by taking Maryland center Alex Len and acquiring Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin along with guard Malcolm Lee from the Golden State Warriors in exchange for the 30th pick. Goodwin, the youngest American player in the 2013 NBA Draft, is a nice piece to get the Suns started in the right direction and his former college coach agrees.
"Archie has elite-level athleticism and quickness, but what I like about him is his attitude," John Calipari said of Goodwin on the school's website. "He has that trait that you can't teach ... that mentality that I'm going to go all out and do whatever I can to make my team better."
Len and Goodwin will join forces with the already established Goran Dragic, who led Phoenix in most major statistical categories last season, center Marcin Gortat, and guards Gerald Green and Eric Bledsoe.
"As a coach, you have to figure out the best way to use the guys you have," Hornacek said. "With us, it obviously wouldn't make sense for us to be a slow team. We're going to utilize the strength of our guys which means getting up and down the court."
The Suns were dealing this summer and sent two-time All-Star forward Caron Butler to the Milwaukee Bucks for guard Ish Smith and center Viacheslav Kravtsov. They also dealt forward/center Luis Scola to the Indiana Pacers in exchange for Green, center Miles Plumlee and a future first-round draft pick. Green and Bledsoe should provide leadership right away and make Hornacek's coaching debut a smooth one. Bledsoe was acquired in the deal that also landed Butler, who was later traded.
The news wasn't all that good in the desert when the team opted to buy out the final two seasons on the contract of troubled forward Michael Beasley. Beasley disappointed on the court during his lone season with the Suns, averaging career lows of 10.1 points and 3.8 rebounds in 75 games and being relegated to a bench role for much of the campaign.
"The Suns were devoted to Michael Beasley's success in Phoenix," Babby said last month. "However, it is essential that we demand the highest standards of personal and professional conduct as we develop a championship culture."
Step one in times of turmoil is recognizing the problem and doing something about it. Like Babby stated back in September, it's what comes with the rebuilding process and the Suns are hoping to take advantage of it.
2012-13 Results: 25-57, last in Pacific
ADDITIONS: HC Jeff Hornacek, G Eric Bledsoe, G/F Gerald Green, SG Malcolm Lee, PG Ish Smith, F Miles Plumlee, C Viacheslav Kravtsov, C Alex Len, SG Archie Goodwin
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Eric Bledsoe SG- Goran Dragic SF- P.J. Tucker PF- Markieff Morris C - Marcin Gortat
KEY RESERVES: C Alex Len, SG Archie Goodwin, PF Marcus Morris, SG Gerald Green, PG Kendall Marshall, F Miles Plumlee
FRONTCOURT: Besides Dragic, Gortat is the other vital piece of this roster. A strong presence inside, Gortat is not afraid to bang with the big boys and had to face the likes of Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, David Lee, Pau Gasol and DeMarcus Cousins. Howard is out of the Pacific, which could make life a bit easier on Gortat, who averaged 11.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks across 30.8 minutes per game. His minutes may increase in 2013-14, but Gortat feels he could get dealt in the season. Gortat is in the final year of his contract with the Suns.
"This is a business," Gortat said. "We all know where I am right now, and we all know what's going to happen probably. It's business. I totally understand that. I totally understand the situation. I totally understand the management and front-office people. There are no hard feelings."
Small forward P.J. Tucker posted averages of 24.2 minutes, 6.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game last season, and is known for his stingy defense. Tucker polished his skills in the Summer League and is not expected to produce much offensively. Power forward Markieff Morris had similar numbers to Tucker with 8.2 points and 4.8 boards in 22.4 minutes per game. Morris is huge at 6- foot-10, 245 pounds and should take on a bigger role in 2013-14 now that Luis Scola is gone. For how long and big Morris is, his skills on the offensive side are impressive.
BACKCOURT: Dragic is a player on the rise and led the Suns in points (14.7), assists (7.4) and steals (1.6) last season. The Yugoslavian is entering the prime of his career and while he doesn't garner the attention like the usual NBA stars, Dragic has transformed himself into a leader. Dragic, who was one of only two NBA players leading his team in points, assists, steals and free throw attempts at the All-Star break, thrived playing alongside Kendall Marshall, but will have a new weapon in Bledsoe. Hornacek is excited with his backcourt and landed Bledsoe in a deal with the Clippers. Bledsoe is expected to run the point and Dragic will shift to the No. 2 spot.
"I know the type of guy Goran is," Hornacek said. "These guys tell me he wants to go all the time. He wants to practice. I went into it saying, 'Goran, let me know if you feel like you're getting a little tired or something. We'll try to keep you out a little bit.' We'll just communicate and figure that out."
Bledsoe and the rest of the backcourt are trying to mesh and Hornacek wants his guards to apply pressure on defense before distributing the ball or taking shots. He feels it will benefit the shooters in getting "more open looks" in transition. Bledsoe played under All-Star Chris Paul and averaged 8.5 points, 3.1 assists, three rebounds and 1.4 steals per game mainly coming off the bench. Now he gets his chance to flap his wings as a full-time starter.
BENCH: Hornacek has inexperience on the bench and promising big men anxious to get the season going. Len was Phoenix's top draft pick and is learning the professional game quickly and has impressed so far during camp. Len has a solid work ethic and Hornacek has taken notice, saying: "I think he's doing a great job of playing hard. He's trying to listen to what we're doing. He's asking the coaches questions. We forget sometimes how young he is and things that he has to learn." Len will share time with Miles Plumlee, Marcus Morris, Channing Frye and Slava Kravtsov.
Goodwin is another rookie who has made an impact from the jump and wants to be great. He's a hard worker with tremendous upside. Meanwhile, Green played an integral role with the Pacers before coming to Phoenix and hopes to be a part of the Suns' rebuilding mode. Some other options off the pine for Hornacek are guards Marshall, Dionte Christmas, Shannon Brown and Ish Smith.
COACHING: Hornacek was respected around the league when he played 14 years in the NBA and built the kind of reputation the Suns needed to start anew.
"I'm so proud and excited for him. This just helps show that good things happen to good people," former teammate and Hall of Famer Karl Malone said. "I was lucky enough to get to know both Jeff and his family during our time in Utah, and am happy to see him getting a chance to coach in the place where his playing career started."
Keep an eye out for the guard play this season for Phoenix, which should create more opportunities both inside and outside the perimeter. Jerry Sichting, Mike Longabardi, Kenny Gattison and Mark West are assistants.
OUTLOOK: The Suns are still a work in progress. Dragic and Gortat will carry the load this season and the Suns will get a good look at some of their younger additions, including both Len and Goodwin. It will be interesting to see how Dragic and Bledsoe co-exist in the backcourt and how the other newcomers adjust. It will take a few years, perhaps some more deals and wise drafting to get Phoenix back on the map because right now the team is looking at another last-place finish in the Pacific and about 25 wins.