We loved Alvin Gentry, but he never was a head coach who could deliver a consistently winning team, much less a champion. He was put out of his misery by the team with the most miserable record in the NBA's Western Conference last season, the Phoenix Suns. After searching high and low, Suns honchos brought in Jeff Hornacek from the Utah Jazz, where he'd toiled as a player and a "special coach" under the legendary Jerry Sloan and later as a full-time Jazz assistant. Hornacek was an outstanding player! Originally drafted by the Suns, he terrified opposing players with his intensity. He became the Suns' third option in an offense dominated by Kevin Johnson and Tom Chambers. Coached by Cotton Fitzsimmons, the combo took the previously hapless franchise to three playoff appearances in a row. Hornacek became the Suns' most prolific scorer in the 1991-92 season with 20 points per game. Despite all that, his claim to fame in Phoenix then was as the guy who got traded to the Philadelphia 76ers for Charles Barkley. He was a Sixer for a season before he landed in Utah, playing under Sloan and with two greats, John Stockton and Karl "Mailman" Malone. The trio led the Jazz to the NBA Finals twice, losing both times to Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls in '97 and '98. Hornacek had the unenviable task of guarding the greatest basketball player ever in those losses. Winner of the NBA three-point competition twice, Hornacek once hit 11 threes in a row to tie the then-NBA record.
One of the most fundamentally sound players ever, he hit 67 free throws in a row in the '99 season. But can he excel as a head coach? Star players rarely make great coaches, but Hornacek — despite his athletic accolades — never was a star. He had to fit in with dazzling players wherever he went, even moving from shooting guard to point guard in Philly. He had to take advantage of what was offered him. He was the greatest player most fans never heard of. He'll fit in and excel as a head coach, too — or die trying!