While other teams are stealing headlines, the Suns possibly stole the next great system coach.

The deranged carnival ride that is the NBA coaching carousel has become so bizarre that one can hardly be sure what the proper qualifications even entail anymore. The Nets' hiring of Jason Kidd in 2013 was strange enough considering that Kidd's playing uniform wasn't even out of the dryer yet, but apparently it was only a precursor. Now is as good a time as any to appreciate the stability that the Suns found in Jeff Hornacek, at a bargain price nonetheless.

Coaching Calamity

Permit me to start with an obvious statement: Head coaching is a fickle business. 13 teams changed head coaches last summer, and currently another 7 are making changes this summer. Detroit and Cleveland made the list in both years. While the salary cap ensures that players on guaranteed contracts are bound to stick around (unless they are Michael Beasley), coaches salaries do not count against the salary cap, and thus their job security is at the mercy of the team's ebbs and flows.

If the team improves and takes the next step, the coach is a genius. If they plateau and stagnate, then obviously the team has "tuned the coach out", or he has taken them as far as he can. Choose whichever cliche you prefer.

When that happens, and it usually does at some point, it's time to cue the funhouse music and hire a new coach. No matter what the team is looking for, be it an "X's and O's" guy or a motivational guru, rest assured that he will definitely be better than that last guy. That guy totally sucked.

Another contributing factor to the turmoil in the coaching ranks is the evolving strategies of front office executives. The wave of analytics has washed a new breed of GM's to the shore, and turnover in the front office almost always results in a change in coaching personnel. It isn't difficult to comprehend; the guy in charge of shaping the roster need to be on the same page as the guy instructing the players.

When you throw a party, you hire a DJ that can relate to the guests you're inviting. If you invite a bunch of bikers over and the DJ is spinning salsa music, that's how your patio furniture ends up getting tossed into the pool. It's bad for the DJ, it's bad for you, and it's bad for the pool.

Even crazier than playing salsa music for bikers is the recent hiring practices teams are employing.

Experience Not Necessarily Necessary

Not all teams disclose the terms of the contracts given to their head coaches. Included in these nine teams are Atlanta (Budenholzer), Houston (McHale), Minnesota (Saunders), New Orleans (Williams), Orlando (Vaughn), Philadelphia (Brown), Portland (Stotts), Utah (Snyder), and Washington (Wittman).

In addition to the nine teams that do not disclose coaching salaries, there are also two teams that are currently without a head coach -- Cleveland and the Lakers. This leaves us with 19 current available head coaching salaries, detailed here. Of these 19 salaries, it seems that $2 million is the unofficial minimum salary for an NBA head coach. Six coaches make $2 million a year -- Dave Joerger (Memphis), Steve Clifford (Charlotte), Brian Shaw (Denver), Frank Vogel (Indiana), Larry Drew (Milwaukee), and the head coach of your Phoenix Suns, Jeff Hornacek.

Two of those coaches (Hornacek and Clifford) received first-place votes for Coach Of The Year, with Hornacek coming in second to Gregg Popovich.

Conversely, five head coaches will make at least $5 million in 2014: Popovich (Spurs, $6 million), Stan Van Gundy (Pistons, $7 million/year), Doc Rivers (Clippers, $7 million), Steve Kerr (Warriors, $5 million) and Derek Fisher (Knicks, $5 million).

Two of the five (Kerr and Fisher) have never coached before.

The Warriors hired Mark Jackson, a man with zero coaching experience, out of the broadcast booth in 2011. After bizarre clashes with management and insubordination among his assistants, Jackson was fired and replaced with ... a broadcaster with zero coaching experience.

Steve Kerr flirted heavily with Phil Jackson and the Knicks, essentially driving up his demand to the tune of a $25 million dollar contract, then used those Dolan dollars as leverage to coach closer to home with the Warriors. This is the same guy who, in 2010, walked away from his post as Suns' GM right before the inevitable downfall of the post-Amare years commenced.

If an educational manual were to be written about how to inflate and maintain your value as an NBA coach or executive, it should be written by Steve Kerr. This dude is a straight pimp.

As for the Knicks, they had a $25 million check already written out for Kerr, and being the Knicks, by God they were going to give it to somebody. They were already committed to paying Phil Jackson $12 million yearly to tell them who else to give money to, so naturally it was longtime Jackson subordinate Derek Fisher that won the handsome contract.

Fisher was the second point guard in as many years to make the leap straight from playing to coaching a New York team, following Kidd's ascension to head coach of the Nets. It remains to be seen how long Fisher will stay in New York before using his family as an excuse to coach a better roster.

The Knicks have now invested $17 million a year in Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher despite the possibility that the triangle offense might be outdated in today's NBA, wherein offensive schemes are now widely predicated on spreading out the floor as much as possible. Normally this would be pure insanity, but the Knicks have a decorated tradition of paying gargantuan sums of money for mediocre results.

So on that note, pop the champagne!!!

(even though water would make more sense)

The Shot Doctor

In stark contrast to the high-stakes insanity occurring in Oakland and New York, there is Hornacek and the Suns. Hornacek became a head coach the old-fashioned way -- by coaching. Before serving 2 1/2 years as an assistant to Tyrone Corbin in Utah he was tabbed by Jerry Sloan to serve as a "special assistant" during the 2007/08 season. His job was to teach players to shoot, specifically the uber-talented Andrei Kirilenko.

Kirilenko's 3-point shooting improved to .379 under Hornacek's tutelage, from an abysmal .213 the previous season.

In the same season, C.J. Miles improved from .219 to .390, Deron Williams improved from .322 to .395, Ronnie Price improved from .323 to .347, and the Jazz as a team improved from 29th in the NBA at .335 to 10th at .372 (partly attributed to the midseason acquisition of Kyle Korver). Hornacek then decided to put coaching on the back burner until his children were older. Utah's 3-point shooting immediately plummeted back to 26th in the league at .349 in 2008/09.

Fast-forward to the 2012/13 season, Hornacek's last as a Jazz assistant. Gordon Hayward shot a stellar .415 from three, only to plummet to a paltry .304 in 2013/14 following Hornacek's departure.

If that isn't enough evidence of Hornacek's influence, consider that four Suns players (Goran Dragic, P.J. Tucker, Gerald Green, Marcus Morris) reached career highs in 3-point shooting in 2013/14, while the Suns as a team improved from 28th in the league at .330 to 8th at .372.

Coincidences of this magnitude simply do not exist, despite the insistence of Markieff Morris (career-worst .315 3P%) and Ish Smith (galaxy-worst .043 3P%) to serve as exceptions to the rule.

The Future Is Unwritten, But It Looks Amazing

In a game that bears the primary objective of putting a ball into a basket, the fact that Hornacek's nearly mystical ability to improve a team's shooting ability didn't enable him to earn more than a league-low $2 million a season is baffling. Factor in his calming influence, media-friendly personality, his ability to instill confidence in his players (specifically Gerald Green) and the fact that no one in the NBA out-hustles his team, and the Suns simply got stupidly lucky that the rest of the NBA didn't recognize these qualities.

The San Antonio Spurs have re-invented themselves as an offensive juggernaut in the twilight of Tim Duncan's career, crediting much of this success to their own shot wizard, Chip Engelland. Aside from fixing the jumpshot of a young Tony Parker and thus turning the Frenchman into an infuriatingly elite player, guys like Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard have been turned into knockdown shooters under Engelland, giving San Antonio the luxury of acquiring a talented wing like Leonard and fixing his one weakness -- shooting -- just like one winds a wristwatch.

Could Hornacek also give the Suns this same luxury? His body of work lends no reason for doubt.

On top of his shooting wizardry, the Suns found an immediate sense of stability with Hornacek. Over the course of the 2013/14 season, the only starting lineup changes that occurred were ones that resulted from injury. Channing Frye started all 82 games, PJ Tucker started all 81 games (missing one due to suspension), Miles Plumlee started 79 of his 80 games, and the only bench player to start more than 3 games was Gerald Green, who filled in when Bledose or Dragic were injured (mostly Bledsoe).

As Markieff Morris and Green enjoyed career years and turned themselves into reliable scorers, most coaches would respond by inserting them into the starting lineup. Hornacek didn't flinch, and the Suns finished the year with the third highest-scoring bench in the NBA (39.0 PPG), which kept the offense in a constant state of attack. For Suns fans that grew frustrated with incessant lineup changes and an overall lack of roster continuity over the previous three seasons, this has been a wonderful development.

Hornacek likely won't be underpaid for long, and as Suns fans we can only hope that his influence and tenure lasts longer than previous acclaimed Suns coaches like Paul Westphal, Scott Skiles, and Mike D'Antoni -- guys that were geniuses for a year or two before the warts became too gnarly to ignore.

The good news is, Jeff Hornacek is apparently way too qualified for anyone to throw a $25 million contract his way.

Among the pure shooting guard prospects, three players stand out from their competition as the best of the bunch. Who might the Suns draft?

Let's assume that the Phoenix Suns will execute at least one of their draft picks at the 14th and 18th selections in the June 26 Draft, rather than trading both away for a star.

Let's also assume that the Suns want a shooting guard as some insurance against trading away one of Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Archie Goodwin in the next year in an effort to improve the talent on their front line.

This year's draft has a better talent level than last year's, in general, but the best pure shooting guards are all currently ranked in the 10-25 range of most mock drafts - right where the Suns are picking.

Whither Archie Goodwin?

A year ago, the Suns moved up a spot to nab what they saw as an undervalued player in Archie Goodwin. Statistically, Goodwin ranked poorly against the shooting guard competition in his draft, but he was one of the youngest players in college basketball (just 18 all season) and he played out of position all year (PG) at one of the highest profile programs in the nation (Kentucky).

On KTAR last week, coach Hornacek remembered being highly impressed with Goodwin when he visited for a pre-draft workout. Archie's quick first step and overall aggressive demeanor got him a second look and eventually a draft pick to move to the valley.

Goodwin impressed us all in summer league, dropping 13+ points per game in the VSL and then later 25+ PPG in a couple stints in the D-League.

But should the Suns hitch their wagon to a kid who still can't shoot straight from range? Let's take a look at the draft alternatives.

Best of 2014

The best pure shooting guards in the Suns 14-18 draft range are Gary Harris (19 years old, one month younger than Archie), Nick Stauskas (20 years old), and P.J. Hairston (21 years old). Zach LaVine is also a possibility, but his draft stock profiles so closely to Archie - all promise, little college production - that I'm leaving him out of this conversation. LaVine comes out horribly in this statistical comparison.

*Note: This analysis excludes small forwards (Hood, Young, etc) and combo guards (

Based on pure scoring ability, P.J. Hairston looks like the most ready to contribute of these three as a rookie. He spent the past year in the D-League, so his competition was generally higher than Stauskas or Harris faced. Though the D-League isn't known for intricate offensive or defensive schemes, so you have to take that into account.

Among all shooting guards in this draft, here are the comps, per Draftexpress.com:

  • Hairston #1 in points per 40 min; Stauskas/Harris in middle of pack
  • Hairston #3 in 3-pt attempts per 40 min; Harris top 1/3, Stauskas middle of pack
  • Hairston #3 in 3-pt per FGA; Harris top 1/3, Stauskas middle of pack
  • Hairston #6 in Free throw attempts (FTA) per 40; Stauskas #7, Harris bottom half
  • Stauskas #3 in FTA/possession; Hairston and Harris middle of pack
  • Stauskas #2 in True Shooting %; Hairston #6, Harris middle
  • Stauskas #6 in in Assists/40; Harris #8, Hairston dead last
  • Stauskas, Harris and P.J. all middle of pack in Turnovers/40
  • Stauskas #3 in Pure Point Ratio (scoring + assists - turnovers); Harris #7, Hairston 2nd to last
  • Stauskas #6 in PER; Harris #8, Hairston in bottom 1/3
  • Harris middle of pack in Rebounds/40; Hairston bottom 1/3, Stauskas 2nd to last
  • Harris #5 in Steals/40; Hairston #7, Stauskas dead last
  • Harris #5 in Blocks/40; Hairston #6, Stauskas middle of pack

Stats in perspective

DX does these statistical comparisons every year.

Last year, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was the P.J. Hairston of the bunch in terms of being the pure scorer who couldn't pass. But KCP was younger than Hairston (19 vs. 21), longer and had the better defensive chops. KCP eventually went 9th overall and had an up-and-down rookie campaign for the Detroit Dysfunctionals.

Victor Oladipo passed everyone's eye test with flying colors, but he profiled similar to Gary Harris this year - not a high-volume scorer,  but the best all-around player. Harris is younger than Oladipo was (19 vs. 21), while Oladipo was the better passer and better overall athlete. Oladipo eventually went #2 overall and had a very good rookie campaign, though he got 82 games to prove he's not a point guard.

Nick Stauskas might be the next coming of J.J. Redick, or the shooting guard version of Gordon Hayward. He's a highly efficient scorer and good passer who plays with a high basketball IQ. Scouts are lately talking about Stauskas being a better athlete than college indicated and passable defender. He will have to defend well to make a long starting career in the NBA.

Stats don't tell the whole story, though.

A year ago, Archie showed terribly in these statistical comps. He was the youngest player in his conference and played the entire year out of position at point guard. The Suns loved what they saw and ignored the stats. Archie played similar to what the stats showed - great at getting to the basket, bad at shooting, too young to make much difference - but showed potential to be so much more than he was at Kentucky.

When Gary Harris visited in May for a pre-draft workout, GM Ryan McDonough said that Harris should not be penalized for his poor shooting last year, that a lot of factors played a part in Harris regressing in that area.


All are 21 or younger, so none of these three shooting guards are anywhere near their NBA ceiling. They all had better college careers than the Suns young prospect Archie Goodwin, though Goodwin is STILL almost the youngest of the bunch (Harris is younger by a month).

If you're looking for a rookie contributor, then P.J. Hairston is your man. Push for him hard. He's ready to make the All-Rookie team.

If you're looking for long-term potential who might just be an All-Star some day but might not contribute as much as Hairston as a rookie, then look at Stauskas and Harris. Their ceilings are higher than Hairston, in my opinion.

But if you'd just rather Archie Goodwin get all those minutes next season, then pray he really does straighten out that shot and that the Suns skip the shooting guard position altogether in this draft.

What should the Suns do?

  508 votes | Results

Mitch McGary

School: Michigan

Draft Range: Draft Express - 30, NBA Draft Insider - 28, NBADraft.net - 38

Pre-Draft Measurements:

  • Height: 6'10"
  • Weight: 266 lbs
  • Wingspan: 6'11.5"
  • Standing Reach: 8'11.5"


The Buzz

With McGary it's all buzz right now, of the unsubstantiated variety.  To this point McGary is the biggest question mark of the 2014 NBA Draft.  His agent has him under wraps, as he's yet to make a visit to an NBA team, and he was a no show at the NBA Combine in Chicago.  There's plenty of speculation as to why that is.  Many feel it may be due to the back injury that limited McGary to just eight games during his sophomore year last season.  Others, including Alex Kennedy at basketballinsiders.com are circulating a rumor that McGary has received a promise from a team drafting in the 20's.  At least publicly, McGary's camp is running with the rehab story.

"Mark feels, and I do, as well, feel that I'm not 100 percent, and he doesn't want me to play unless I'm at 110 percent," McGary told the Detroit Free Press. "He doesn't want to reveal me to anybody until I'm 100 percent, and I feel as if I'm a couple weeks out. I plan to. I'm letting Mark handle a lot of it. I don't know who or when or what (teams). Right now, I'm just focusing trying to rehab my back."

No pun intended I'm sure, on the "rehab."  It was an easy decision for McGary to declare for the draft after his sophomore season at Michigan.  Following his freshman year where he played an enhanced role near the end of the season and was a vital member of a team that advanced to the NCAA Championship Game, McGary's eight game sophomore campaign was met with further troubling news.  He tested positive for marijuana during the NCAA Tournament and was ruled ineligible for the following season.  This made the decision to jump to the NBA an easy one, and at least one Eastern Conference scout indicated the positive drug screen would have no bearing on McGary's draft position.

The Offense

When it comes to attacking the rim, there are few prospects in the draft that do so as zealously as McGary.  He's more aggressive than explosive, "think more Kevin Love than Blake Griffin." That's Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves for those Suns fans that are unfamiliar.  McGary's wingspan isn't terribly impressive when it comes to the center position, but that's alright because the center position doesn't really exist in the Association anymore, particularly in Phoenix.  Few players take as much pride in setting a solid screen as McGary.  He doesn't have the best form on his jump shot, although the sample size is too small to label him a "bad shooter."  Post game is non existent.  He did benefit greatly from playing alongside talented point guard Trey Burke, particularly when it came to rolling to the basket.   The Suns have a talented point guard, in fact they have multiple talented point guards.

The Defense

McGary's best offensive traits are even further exemplified on defense.  Let's get the cliches out of the way.  High basketball IQ.  High motor.  Gets high.  I'm sorry, that's classless.  McGary hustles, bangs with the bigs, and gets after loose balls.  Again, he's not the most explosive player, but he has lateral quickness and agility that could prove invaluable in defending the pick and roll.  He pesters on the perimeter and is active in disrupting the passing lanes.  He'll be quicker to bounce out and cover on the perimeter than his peers.  He'll also be less equipped under the hoop.

The Verdict

So I'm going to say no.  McGary seems like a project, and I think the Suns have enough projects and uncertainty on the team.  We need closer to a sure thing.  I realize that there is no such thing as a sure thing, but the back issues on top of everything else is enough to scare me off.  There are comparisons out there with Bill Laimbeer.  That's obviously top of the mark.  Having the career of Chris Mihm seems more realistic.  No, Todd Fuller or Loren Meyer.  Yeah, Fuller or Meyer, I'll let you pick.  Never forget though, how close we came to losing Todd Fuller.

On Thursday, Ryan Weisert made a very strong case for keeping the backcourt combo of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic together. What is most pertinent to his case is that the Phoenix Suns, who might be...

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After a renaissance in which he returned triumphantly to the NBA from a year-long issue with his heart, now Channing Frye has a big decision to make with regard to his future.

This is a big, big summer for the Phoenix Suns, and potential free agent Channing Frye is right smack dab in the middle of that uncertainty. The Suns want to acquire a star, preferably on the front line, to accompany rising All-Star talents Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe.

Short term vs. long term

Frye has a player option for the 2014-15 of $6.8 million that he must pick up by June 23 - three days before the 2014 NBA Draft - or become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Frye has said that he wants to remain in Phoenix. He grew up in the valley, won a state title with St. Mary's in high school and then won big at UofA in Tucson and went 8th overall in the NBA Draft. After a fitful start, playing for the Suns has been the highlight of his professional career. The Suns supported Frye throughout his bout this heart issues, and welcomed his back with open arms when he got healthy.

Frye is certainly a fan favorite and one of the most recognizable Suns of the past half decade. But at 30 years old, this summer or next will be Frye's last chance at a long-term contract. He certainly wants some stability and might opt out to get that stability right now instead of waiting until next summer. As he learned two years ago, the future is unknown.

If Frye leaves, the Suns will need to replace his unique talents in order to be as successful next season. Luckily, he has to make that decision before the draft. If Frye opts out, the Suns could decide to take Adreian Payne at the 14th or 18th pick to ensure that they have the stretch-four skills on the roster in 2014-15 no matter what happens.

Frye has the perfect game for the two slashing guards - nicknamed here the Slash Brothers last December - as a stretch four who can open up the driving lanes by being a major threat behind the three-point line. The Suns offense hummed last year when Frye, Dragic and Bledsoe were healthy together. Defensively, Frye is not fleet of foot but he is an effective low post defender and nearly always makes the smart play as a team defender.

If Frye opts in (impact pre July 1)

If Frye opts in by June 23, he becomes trade eligible immediately. Frye and his $6.8 million salary, second highest on the team at the moment, can be traded for salary matching purposes if the Suns acquire a high-salaried player in the draft. Prior to July 1, the Suns have a mere $5 million in cap space to absorb salaries without trading players on the roster.

Frye's talents are relatively unique and in high demand in today's NBA. The stretch four is difficult to defend for any team, even the best defenses the league has to offer. He would be solid trade bait.

If Frye opts in (post July 1)

The Phoenix Suns have a very young roster, with 9 current players tied up to guaranteed contracts for the 2014-15 season, including Frye, plus three first round draft picks. Only Eric Bledsoe and P.J. Tucker are restricted free agents.

That's 14 players under the Suns' control for the 2014-15 before free agency actually starts.

With Frye under contract for 2014-15, and factoring in all the cap holds, the Suns will have $19.7 million to spend on July 1 when the free agency period opens. That's a lot of dough to spend on an underwhelming free agent class, though it all depends on LeBron James' comfort with Miami's future.

Once the Suns match offers to Tucker and Bledsoe, that cap space could drop in half. But before that, it's certainly possible that the Suns could convince a big-name free agent to sign a contract first, and then Bledsoe/Tucker's contracts could exceed the cap thanks to Bird Rights.

However, the Suns will most likely use that cap space to absorb higher salaried players through trade, since there's little room for free agent bodies on the roster anyway. And again, Frye and his salary will be good trade bait in any trade for a star.

If Frye opts out (pre July 1)

If Frye opts out, he cannot be traded. And, his salary remains on the books until June 30, so there's no benefit to the Suns prior to July 1.

If Frye opts out (post July 1)

Frye's cap hold as of July 1, if he opts out, would be $9.6 million (150% of his last salary).

That would drop the Suns' available free agency money to $16.8 million on July 1. Still a huge chunk of change, and not likely enough of an impact to affect the Suns decision-making.

But if the Suns do see an opening to spend big on a free agent, they could renounce Frye's Bird Rights and free up the whole $9.6 million as cap space.

For example, let's say the Suns made no trades during the draft and took all their picks (including Payne) after Frye opts out. The Suns renounce their Bird Rights to Frye and free up $26.5 million in cap space while still having 13 players under their control.

That's enough money to slide a LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony right onto the team without giving up any talent at all. Or, they could sign a pair of free agents to $10+ million deals before matching any offers to Bledsoe and Tucker. In each case, Frye would be expendable anyway.

The Suns might renounce Frye's Bird Rights no matter what their free agency plans. There's no way Frye will get a contract in excess of $9.6 million, and there's no way the Suns would offer a fifth year or a bigger raise than any other team could offer. Frankly, in Frye's case, in this summer of cap space, the Bird Rights don't matter.

You could make the case that the team needs Bird Rights to do a sign-and-trade with Frye if he wants to sign with someone else, but I see that as unlikely. Still, it's one thing to consider if a playoff team over the cap wants Frye. The Suns might be able to snag a future asset in exchange for tying up their cap space for a few weeks.

My take

The timing of Frye's decision is very advantageous to the Suns. As you can see there's a lot of possibilities out there and he is the lynchpin on many of them.

Opt in, and he's trade bait for a superstar. Opt out, and the Suns are swimming in cap space big enough to sign a superstar if they want.

If you ask me, I hope Frye stays with the Phoenix Suns for the rest of his playing career, just at a lower cost. My ideal scenario has Frye opting out, which he needs to do to get a long-term contract, and re-signing with the Suns in mid to late July to a smaller three-year deal (say, three years, $15 million) in which the guaranteed money declines in year three.

The Suns will still have plenty of room to sign or trade for whoever they want. Frye can be a starter or backup at PF or C and will be happy with any of those roles. He will continue to provide about 10 points, 5 rebounds on 25-28 minutes a night with 40% three-point shooting. He will continue to be a great locker room presence, a great stabilizing influence on and off the court. You want players to emulate him. He's like Udonis Haslem in Miami. Like Nick Collison in OKC.

Channing Frye IS a Phoenix Sun, through and through.

Opt out and re-sign for less money over more years, Channing. Please. That's my perfect solution.

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