Suns Players: Hornacek Coach of the Year

Barry Gossage/NBAE

The Coach of the Year voting totals for Phoenix’s Jeff Hornacek broke down as follows:

1st place votes: 37

2nd place votes: 44

3rd place votes: 22

Total points: 339

The end result was a second-place finish to San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, who finished just 41 points ahead of Hornacek.

For Suns players, however, the Coach of the Year was right here in Phoenix.

“To me, I think he’s coach of the year by far,” Gerald Green said. “It’s not even close.”

Green’s opinion may carry a conflict of interest, but it carries more validity than the I-play-for-him angle. Discarded by six NBA teams by the time he arrived in Phoenix, the 6-8 swingman was deemed a ridiculously talented-but-flawed talent by several within NBA circles.

Hornacek didn’t see it that way, and his treatment of Green mirrored his vision.

“Everything I was doing, coach was telling me, ‘Good job. Good job. Keep doing that,’ Green said. “I just kind of felt like, ‘Wow, I haven’t even really done anything yet. So maybe just try to do a little bit more.’ Every time I did a little bit more, he was always encouraging me to keep doing more of it.”

Other players added their own witness to the same thing: the rookie head coach had already proven adept at summoning the best out of his players, talent that goes untouched by countless coaches who come and go in the NBA ranks.

“He’s already one of the best coaches in the NBA if you ask me, and it was his rookie year,” Goran Dragic said. “I think he brings that quality, ‘the best player that you can be.’”

The numbers back up the claim. Eight different players averaged career-highs in scoring. Perhaps more impressive was that those numbers were far from empty. They were not a consequence of players being forced into larger roles. The formula worked to the tune of a 48-win season when many predicted less than 20.

Hornacek kept that formula balanced with an experience that belied his label of “rookie coach.” Fourteen years as a player - including an All-Star appearance, two trips to the NBA Finals and over nearly 90 percent of his games as a starter – had him far ahead of the typical coach’s curve.

“It’s cliché, but he’s a player’s coach,” Miles Plumlee said. “He’s a player himself. When he tells his stuff, we know it’s not some horse crap. It’s because he did this and he won and he was a great competitor in this league. He knows.”

“He understands the game because he played that game,” Dragic added. “That makes it even easier for us because he understands us.”

X’s and O’s matter, but so does the person drawing them up. Too much basketball and too little personality can make for an arduous coach.

Somehow, Hornacek found the invisible line between boss and buddy – and mastered hwen to cross it.

“He’s not only a coach for us, he’s a friend, too,” Dragic said. “He talks with us a lot. He communicates with us. He’s making jokes. That’s what brings players and coaches closer.”

“He also doesn’t trip about things that sometimes don’t matter,” Plumlee added. “I think players respect that. The biggest thing was I think he had so much respect from us right off the bat. He took that and brought us together and really built a lot of confidence in a team that a lot of people thought wouldn’t be very good.”

Confidence now builds willingness later. At some point during the season, the head coach needs to know his players will rise to the occasion, especially when he issues a specific request.

It’s safe to say he’s won at least that much from his players.

“For Jeff, even if I had one leg, I would play for him because he gave me a lot,” Dragic said.