dragic hornacek

The Extra Pass: Suns struggling to stay in postseason picture after recent, disappointing slide


NEW YORK — No matter how the Phoenix Suns finish the 2013-14 season, the year will be considered an overachievement by every metric possible.

But after spending so much of the season as one of the league’s feel-good stories, firmly entrenched in the Western Conference playoff picture for most of it, falling out of postseason contention and finishing in the lottery as many predicted would be supremely disappointing.

The Suns find themselves a game and a half behind Memphis for the final playoff spot in the West after getting rolled by the Nets on Monday, in a contest where Phoenix brought nowhere near the required effort — something that was evident from the game’s early moments.

“It sure looked like [a difficult night was ahead] right from the start,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said afterward. “The energy level wasn’t where it was in the [previous game, a win in Toronto] — missing easy shots right off the bat, timeouts. They came out of timeouts and didn’t run the play we had on the board, didn’t know where to go. I just didn’t think their heads were in it.”

The final numbers weren’t as bad as they were at the game’s lowest point, when the Nets had built a lead of as many as 23 points in the second half and were threatening to finish the game shooting better than 60 percent from the field — a mark they would have hit easily if not for too many third quarter heat-checks, and some rough shooting from Alan Anderson and Marcus Thornton that dragged the average down.

Phoenix looked out of sync offensively all night long, but the defense was even worse as Brooklyn had amassed 44 points in the paint by halftime while shooting better than 67 percent over the game’s first 24 minutes. The missing cohesion defensively, along with 11 first half turnovers were an indication to Hornacek that his team wasn’t all there in this one.

“That’s all lack of focus,” he said. “If you don’t mentally prepare for the game, thinking about it all day long you’ll have the slip-ups — the lazy passes, not holding a guy off to get open. It’s all the little things in a game that help you win, and we did none of ‘em.”

The Suns haven’t been doing those things consistently in quite some time. Back on Feb. 22, Phoenix was sixth in the Conference standings with a record of 33-21, but eight losses in their last 13 games now have them on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. Hornacek has talked to the team about games that could impact their playoff positioning before, but he’s wary of continuing to do so because it hasn’t yielded the desired results.

“We try not to talk about it, because last time we talked about playoff positioning — just, ‘hey, we’ve got to win this game for playoffs’ — we played kind of like this again,” Hornacek said. “So I don’t know if that was pressure that got to ‘em tonight, but we just didn’t have the effort, for whatever reason.”

Goran Dragic, who’s played at an All-Star level even though he just missed the cut for an appearance in the midesason exhibition, was limited against the Nets by foul trouble and couldn’t get into a rhythm. But he didn’t think the pressure of the playoffs was getting to him or his teammates to the point where it’s impacting their performance.

“We talk about that we want to be a playoff team, of course,” Dragic said. “But I don’t think that because of that we’re losing those games.”

Dragic instead pointed to the teams the Suns have been losing to — playoff teams, to be exact, in five of the eight that have come during this recent slide.

“We didn’t shoot the ball well and our defense has been a problem, but we’ve had a tough stretch,” Dragic said. “We played against teams that are playoff teams. We tried to battle; some games we lost really close, by three or four points. It’s just a tough stretch for us, but we’re not going to complain. We still can make the playoffs. We’ve still got 15 games left to play and hopefully we’re going to regroup and try to get a lot of wins.”

The schedule is difficult to end the season, however, with six of the final eight against teams currently in playoff position in the West.

Phoenix entered the year in rebuilding mode, and the fact that they’ve experienced so much success in spite of that isn’t lost on them. But with a chance at the playoffs having gone from a faint dream to a reality that’s become somewhat expected, missing out on that is going to hurt — especially if it happens because of lackluster efforts like the one we saw against the Nets.

“Some nights you just have a bad night, you flush it down the toilet and go on to the next one,” Hornacek said. “There’s nothing you can do about this one. We’ve got a couple of games at home against teams where we should win if we come out and play, but if we come out and play like we did tonight, we could lose those games, too.”

Report: Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer urged Danny Ferry to resign

Danny Ferry, Mike Budenholzer
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When Danny Ferry’s racism scandal came to light, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer publicly supported his general manager. Budenholzer called the “African” remarks about Luol Deng “very much out of character” and said Ferry was trying to learn from his mistakes.

And while Budenholzer might not have done anything privately to contradict his public statements, his tone apparently differed with Ferry and then-owner Bruce Levenson last fall.

Kevin Arnovitz and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Budenholzer very much owed his job to Ferry. His former Spurs colleague had pleaded with Levenson that the Gregg Popovich assistant was the man for the position. Yet Budenholzer felt Ferry should resign, lest the Hawks be subsumed in disruption when training camp opened, and he made his wishes known in a heartfelt conversation with Ferry and Levenson at that time.

In some respect, Budenholzer was just doing his job as coaching – trying to maximize his teams chances of on-court success. Ferry didn’t resign. He took a leave of absence that lasted until he agreed to a buyout this summer. That was apparently enough to avoid a paralyzing distraction. The Hawks won 60 games and reached their first conference finals since moving to Atlanta.

Ferry’s departure also significantly benefitted Budenholzer personally. Budenholzer ran the Hawks’ front office during Ferry’s leave, and the new owners have installed him as the teams permanent president.

The only other four active coaches with personnel control experienced much more success before getting the dual president/coach title.

Gregg Popovich coached the Spurs to four championships and 11 playoff berths before they named him president in 2008. Doc Rivers won Coach of the Year with the Magic and then guided the Celtics to a title during his 14 seasons before the Clippers plucked him to run their franchise. Stan Van Gundy steered the Heat and Magic to the playoffs in all seven of his full seasons, including a trip to the 2009 NBA Finals with Orlando, before getting hired by the Pistons. Flip Saunders won more games than every other Timberwolves coach combined, is responsible for every playoff win in franchise history and made four trips to the conference finals (including thrice with the Pistons) over 16 total seasons before Minnesota gave him the huge role.

Budenholzer has been a head coach just two seasons, including a 38-44 debut year. He has done a good job, winning Coach of the Year last season, and he might make a good team president.

But he lacks the track record most coaches need to gain such status. Budenholzer, more than anything, was at the right place at the right time.

Report: Rockets will try to sign Alessandro Gentile next summer

Alessandro Gentile, Paulius Jankunas
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The Rockets tried signing Sergio Llull this summer, but he opted for a long-term extension with Real Madrid.

So, they’ll just turn to another player in their large chest of stashed draft picks – Alessandro Gentile.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Gentile, who was selected No. 53 in the 2014, is a 22-year-old wing for Armani Milano. He’s a good scorer, but he primarily works from mid-range – an area the Rockets eschew. He can get to the rim in Europe, but his subpar athleticism might hinder him in the NBA.

If Gentile comes stateside, he’ll face a steep learning curve. But he’s young enough and talented enough that he could develop into a rotation player.