Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — So Jeff Hornacek has his first head coaching assignment. Good for him. Or not. He inherits the 25-win Phoenix Suns, which is a daunting proposition.
So what's his first item of business, teaching the Suns how to make 3s? (They ranked 28th this season.)
He should first hire Jerry Sloan as an assistant.
Hornacek can do the planning, Sloan can do the cursing.
Is this a plan made in Obvious Heaven, or what?
Word leaked to the media Sunday that the 50-year-old Hornacek will be the Suns coach, which makes sense. He already lives there in the off-season. He was drafted by the Suns in 1986.
Talk about an answer right beneath their noses. What did they do to recruit him, call across the backyard fence?
Hornacek was actually planning to have his wife Stacey permanently move to Salt Lake this summer. Don't bank on that now. The last few years, while he worked as an assistant to Tyrone Corbin in Utah, his wife stayed in Phoenix as their kids finished up school. The plan was to reunite in Salt Lake on a more workable basis. But now, the Hornaceks will be back home in Phoenix, having never really left.
Realistically, it would have been hard for the Jazz to keep him after six years on the Jazz sidelines, first as a shooting advisor, then as a full-time assistant. His name has been appearing in coaching searches for several years.
The former shooting guard was nearly as popular in Phoenix as in Utah. That's where he earned his one All-Star selection. He spent six seasons there, just one fewer than playing for the Jazz. He's almost as ubiquitous to Phoenix as cacti and howling coyote art.
It's not as though Utah doesn't want to claim him. His number hangs in the rafters at EnergySolutions Arena. He is likely the franchise's third-most popular player, behind Karl Malone and John Stockton, though a recent Rockmonster Unplugged blog poll of 1,421 voters ranked him the franchise's seventh-most popular figure, behind Malone, Stockton, Carlos Boozer, Larry H. Miller, Sloan and Gordon Hayward.
Now, Hornacek has the job of resurrecting the Suns. Though they have the No. 5 pick in the draft, they also spent last year with an awkward mix of talent. Some were proven players such as Luis Scola, Marcin Gortat, Goran Dragic and Michael Beasley. But they also began the season with seven players with four or fewer years of experience.
So, the team has ground to make up.
It also has one of the league's lower payrolls, which means it could pick up some key free agents in the off-season.
While it might seem beneath a Hall of Fame coach such as Sloan to be Hornacek's assistant, it's not like he'd be too proud. Without the media commitments, Sloan could get back to his favorite parts of the job. It's doubtful he'd miss the peripheral stuff.
Hornacek immediately bought into Sloan's system as a player. It's hard to imagine anyone better qualified to implement the system than him. It's also hard to imagine Hornacek finding anyone better to watch his back. (OK, maybe one person, but Stockton is still raising kids in Spokane.)
Some say at 71 Sloan is too old to continue, but Miami assistant Ron Rothstein is 70, and Minnesota head coach Rick Adelman will be 67 in June. Other assistant coaches last year included Detroit's Brian Hill (65), Memphis' Henry Bibby (63) and the Lakers' Bernie Bickerstaff (69).
Sloan's not too old, unless he's planning to move to Arizona just to retire.
He would not only bring experience but respect. If the young players don't know him, Hornacek can remind them; Sloan was the first coach to hire him.
It's no secret Sloan wants to return to coaching. So far his name continues to come up, then disappear. This way, Sloan could put his toe back in the water to see if he really wants a comeback.
Meanwhile, every time Hornacek has a question, all he'll need to do is look one seat to his right.
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