Suns Retorter: One Thing Turned Around Suns, Belief

“The night is darkest just before the dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming.”

It’s a movie quote from The Dark Knight that has been used a lot around these parts over the last 16 months (at least by the nerdiest of us who believe everything can be summed up by a Batman quote, better known as Batmanalytics). What once was used as a way to build hope is now a statement of truth that is being used to build a bright future.

It’s a scientific fact that as the Sun -- or in this case Suns -- rises, the darkness vanishes to reveal a new day. But unlike in nature, it’s happening in the West rather than the East. This year’s edition of the Suns has already bested the previous season’s record by 17 wins, the best improvement in the NBA, and things are far from over. But what has created one of the most dramatic changes in entertainment since Hannah Montana turned into whatever Miley Cyrus is?


It’s a simple six-letter word that has transformed an organization. It started last May when owner Robert Sarver and President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby changed the course of franchise by entrusting the future of the organization to a 33-year-old from the Celtics organization who, a little over a decade ago, was calling minor league baseball games. That man, Ryan McDonough, after a complete reimagining of the team’s roster, is now being lauded as one of the brilliant young minds in the game.

In turn McDonough, in his first move as general manager, decided to show faith in a man who some thought lacked the emotional edge to be a coach and who had only served full-time on an NBA bench for three seasons.

That faith was rewarded by Jeff Hornacek with a year that has even the toughest coaches and executives in awe at the job he has done getting maximum effort out of his players.

“He understands what it takes at the highest level to win, and he’ll demand it,” Spurs coach and executive Gregg Popovich said of Hornacek. “He’ll be disciplined, and he’ll do it fairly and that engenders respect ... and you can tell they don’t disrespect him and they’re having fun playing.”

There is a reason Hornacek’s players show the utmost respect for their commander-in-chief. It’s the same reason that started at the top of the organization: a trust between both sides to do things the right way.

“It’s confidence and trying to put them in situations that are good for them,” Hornacek said. “Whether it’s allowing Marcus Morris to shoot those mid-range jumpers that he likes and shoots at a good clip or Markieff when he comes in with that second group and going to him in the post that can impact different guys.

“The guys all feel if they take a shot and it’s a good shot the coaches won’t get mad about it. That helps them shoot better. They just feel confident when they go out there and play.”

It’s that confidence which not only shifted the Suns’ record from lackluster to remarkable, but has also changed the career trajectory of many on the roster.

One of those players was Goran Dragic. Once viewed as a lower tier NBA player by some national writers -- which won't be named at this time -- this season he has emerged as a second tier MVP candidate.

What does the Slovenian guard attribute that growth to? Trust.

“It means a lot especially to have a coach behind you that tells you he believes in you, gives you shots and knows you can make plays,” Dragic said of Hornacek. “That’s something huge. If somebody trusts you, you have to give it back to them on the floor.”

And has he ever. Dragic has left it all on the floor by giving maximum effort and playing through pain while averaging career-highs in points, field goal percentage and minutes played.

Another beneficiary of Hornacek's encouragement has been newcomer Eric Bledsoe. A career backup in L.A., he found his starring role and a new belief in himself under his coach's tutelage.

"Unfortunately I couldn’t play as much as I wanted in Los Angeles, because I was playing behind an All-Star,” Bledsoe said. “Now Coach (Hornacek) has got confidence in me and I’ve got full confidence in myself to make some big things happen here. It’s a blessing.”

Despite injuries, Bledsoe has proven to be part of a dynamic one-two punch with Dragic -- affectionately known as the Slash Bros. -- that has helped lay the foundation for the rest of this season and well into the future. When the two have started together this season, the Suns are an astounding 22-10.

One of the most impressive examples of the power of belief and hard work is P.J. Tucker. Just two years removed from not even being in the NBA, the forward is now a starter for Hornacek and his staff.

“It’s amazing,” Tucker said of Hornacek’s faith in him. “He’s so funny. Sometimes he’ll draw up a play and he’ll look up at me and say ‘are you ready to knock down a corner three for me tonight?’ and I’ll say ‘yes.’”

As a result the Texas product is averaging career highs in points, rebounds and minutes played. He has also developed a 3-point game from the corner that previously was non-existent. No, literally. He didn’t even attempt one in his first NBA stint with Toronto and hit only 22 all of last season. He has connected on 64 so far this year. He also has more than tripled his career double-doubles this season. He has 10 and had only previously recorded three.

It’s stories like that which have permeated throughout the roster and the organization. They are just proof how the trickle down of belief from the top down can have an impact on the court. It’s also proof that the foundation for a very bright future has been set this season and could continue to be molded into the month of May.

Like they said in Batman Begins, “Why do we fall down? To learn to pick ourselves back up.”

The Suns have done that and then some over the last year and that is something for fans to truly believe in.