Jeff Hornacek's only NBA jobs for the past two decades had been with the Utah Jazz, but he couldn't get a shot as the top man on their bench so he went back to where his career began.
Following a successful head coaching debut, Hornacek faces the only team with which he was groomed to become an NBA coach as his Phoenix Suns host the Jazz on Friday night.
Hornacek spent the final 6 1/2 seasons of his playing career alongside John Stockton and Karl Malone for a Utah team which reached two NBA finals. He retired in 2000 as the top 3-point shooter in team history (42.8 percent) and later had his No. 14 retired.
After some time away from the NBA, Hornacek returned to the Jazz in 2007 as a shooting coach before joining the bench in 2010 as an assistant under Tyrone Corbin. With Corbin not going anywhere this offseason, Hornacek looked elsewhere for a head coaching position and was given a chance by a Suns franchise with which he played his first six seasons.
"Whether it be as teammates, working together under Jerry Sloan, or as part of my key staff, Jeff is a good friend and I am sorry to see him go," Corbin said upon Hornacek's hiring.
While Corbin is thin at point guard due to rookie Trey Burke (finger) being out at least two months, Hornacek is testing out using two in his lineup.
He's starting offseason acquisition Eric Bledsoe with Goran Dragic - one of four holdovers from a team that went 25-57 - and it worked very well for at least one game. Dragic and Bledsoe combined for 48 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds in a 104-91 win over Portland on Wednesday.
"We always thought that was an advantage, having those two guys," Hornacek said. "One guy is not going, we put the other guy in the pick and roll."
Dragic averaged team highs of 14.7 points and 7.4 assists last season but shot a career-worst 31.9 percent from 3-point range, and he thinks playing alongside Bledsoe will be a major benefit.
"When you play pick and roll and he penetrates and then kicks it out to me, I have a much easier time penetrating again," Dragic said. "It's like a scale. When he goes out, I go out, and when he passes it out, I penetrate. It is tough to defend."
Corbin's starting backcourt wasn't as difficult to defend Wednesday, and Utah lost 101-98 to Oklahoma City. Journeyman John Lucas III started in Burke's place, as he and Gordon Hayward each had five assists but shot a combined 6 for 20.
Alec Burks may soon be starting alongside Hayward after scoring 24 points, handing out six assists and nearly rallying Utah from a 15-point, second-half deficit.
Enes Kanter had 14 points and 10 rebounds while fellow former No. 3 overall pick Derrick Favors added 15 and nine, respectively, but committed six of Utah's 22 turnovers.
"There were a lot of positives, a lot to build off of tonight," said Corbin, whose club won three of four against Phoenix last season.
While Utah is counting on Favors and Kanter to be major frontcourt contributors, not much was expected of Suns newcomer Miles Plumlee. However, the former Duke star who played 55 minutes for Indiana as a rookie last season came through with 18 points and 15 boards in his first NBA start.
"All I can ask for is the opportunity to start everyday," Plumlee said, "and when that opportunity comes you have to take it."
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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