Jeff Hornacek is ISU’s all-time leader in assists and his jersey has been retired and hung at Hilton Colliseum. But as of this week he’s just the NBA’s latest fired coach. It’s been an eventful year for some very accomplished coaches in the league: Kevin McHale was fired just days into the 2016 season and since then he’s been followed out the door by the Nets’ Lionel Hollins, the Cavaliers’ David Blatt, and now the Suns’ Hornacek.
The Suns’ season was in fact a disaster by any standard but it’s not clear the coaching was really the problem. Their two best players, Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, are out with injury and new acquisition Tyson Chandler has underperformed along with the rest of the team. Extended losing streaks resulted two assistants being fired last month and you could just visually perceive that the team was not playing hard, especially on defense. They are regularly getting blown out by 20 points or more.
If Hornacek wants to keep coaching in the NBA in the immediate future there are a few job openings at other franchises. The Nets, Rockets, and Timberwolves all currently have interim coaches and are looking to hire. Although he’ll more likely take some time off after this year’s debacle, let’s take a look at whether he’d fit with any of the current coaching vacancies:
- Brooklyn Nets: This would be a bad fit, the Nets are maybe the only less functional team right now than the Suns. The Nets culture is very top-heavy with owner Mikhail Prokhorov tending to surround himself with people who share his background and with his ludicrous belief that the Nets could be competing for a championship in the next few years. Hornacek could expect to be meddled with and micromanaged there. Why be part of an uncertain rebuilding effort with an aging roster and a dysfunctional front office when you just came off one of the most discouraging seasons of your career?
- Houston Rockets: Hornacek had a successful NBA career as a shooting guard and as a coach he excels at designing offenses, as evidenced by the high-scoring Suns teams he coached in his first two seasons. The Rockets don’t have any problems creating offense as long as James Harden is on their roster. Where the Rockets struggle is on the defensive end and I don’t think Hornacek has the resume to make a team think he can motivate guys to lock down on that side of the ball. The end of his tenure at the Suns suggests that motivating gutsy play is not a given with Hornacek. And that’s what the Rockets lack.
- Minnesota Timberwolves: This one could actually make sense. The team is dominated by incredible young players including Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine, and Ricky Rubio. The younger players are more likely to listen to a new coach and be willing to be coached than some second-tier vets Hornacek coached at the Suns or the first-tier vets he’d have to wrangle at the Rockets. Plus, he’s a native Midwestener, born and raised in Illinois before starring at Iowa State. Management would listen to his ideas and give him time to show results because they aren’t in a win-now mentality, they’re just trying to battle their way back into playoff contention sometime soon.
Too bad it’s too late for him to re-consider the ISU coaching job that was reportedly floated to him last year after Hoiberg announced he was leaving for the Bulls.
Barnes Adds to His Growing Catalog of Clutch Moments
Harrison Barnes calmly hit a game-winning shot with 0.2 seconds on the clock against the Sixers on Sunday and, true to form, didn’t crack their merest smile afterwards. It was a beautiful play: Stephen Curry drew coverage at the perimeter and fed the ball in to Draymond Green who had his back to the basket, in play-making mode, and drew the double-team which left Barnes open for the big three.
Barnes has an impressive history of making clutch shots. Last year he had a game-winner (and similarly stoic reaction) against the Suns.
He also iced a game in 2014 against the Thunder with a late-game turn-around jumper.
Though not a superstar, Barnes’ ability to stay calm at big moments and enjoy taking consequential shots benefits the Warriors greatly. Curry and Klay Thompson are going to draw extra attention at the end of any game because they are the top two shooting options. So for them to know that if Barnes is open he is willing to shoot and able to connect makes end-of-game situations all the more treacherous for their opponents.
Heavily Scrutinized Bulls Continue to Mystify
The Cavaliers are certainly the most over-scrutinized (though admittedly fascinating) team in the NBA but the Bulls have got to be a close second. Every two-game winning streak is plastered across headlines as a sign they’ve turned the tide and every loss is deconstructed for signs of impending collapse. The latest fretting is over the Bulls’ most recent loss, a baffling overtime defeat in which they nearly failed to score a point in overtime for only the second time in franchise history. The first time was earlier this year.
There is a noticeable physical slumping that the Bulls tend to do when shots aren’t falling or guys miss defensive assignments. You can see them losing energy and losing hope as they drop their shoulders or shake their heads wearily. That looks like a lack of camaraderie and chemistry, at least from my angle. Where’s the guy who’s just a rock and never shows signs of frustration but instead encourages guys to act like they can win?
That person needs to be Gasol, Butler, or Rose because they are the ones who’ve seen it all, bear the brunt of the performance pressure, and can communicate confidence to the rest of the team. Why aren’t they leading better? Well, the buck doesn’t actually stop at the players; it can be passed to the coach. And indeed, creating a work environment in which everyone knows their role and where team leaders behave like winners is Hoiberg’s job. It’s well within his grasp to succeed too: He’s a former NBA player (which other players often like) and he’s well-respected throughout the organization. But repeated losing streaks have put pressure on Hoiberg to not only coach the game on the court but also to set a winning tone and foster a spirit of brotherhood off the court.