Lon Babby said last week that he wanted to pay more respect to the Suns tradition, to the Suns loyalists, than they had done in the past three years. Suns fans agree. McDonough says the coach should embrace analytics, be a teacher as well as leader.
None of this is confirmed, but wouldn't it be a PR fourth of July if Lon Babby decided to hire former Sun Charles Barkley as his General Manager and former Sun Jeff Hornacek (who was traded for Barkley) as his head coach?
The entire Suns community would be exploding with cotton candy and sweet tarts if those names headlined a new chapter of Suns lore. Fans would start buying Suns jerseys again, painting their houses and cars orange, begging for season tickets and generating a buzz not seen in these here parts since the last time those guys wore purple and orange.
Say what you want about the Nash years, but the shiny penny feeling of 1989-1992 (Horny's best years) and the 350,000 fan parade for losing the NBA Finals in 1993 (Barkley's best) still remain, to this day, as the greatest moments of pure joy in Suns lore for a multi-generation fan base now laying dormant in the valley.
Back in the Hornacek and Barkley years, my father was a Suns fan through and through. He had season tickets in the 12th row, dedicated an entire room of his house to Suns colors, re-watched every game on VHS after seeing it live, bought autographed this and that, and generally epitomized the ultimate Suns fan.
But after Barkley left, a lot of air went out of the balloon. Through this season, twenty years later, those tickets were still in my dad's name but he stopped going to games in the late 90s. He re-sold the tickets each summer to a friend, who shared them with me the last several years.
Last month, my dad, the friend and I all gave up the tickets. I've got the media pass at this time, so I couldn't even use them last season for the most part. Dad's friend just lost her fire. So we rebuffed the Sixth Man rep and let the tickets go, knowing we could buy back in anytime we wanted because the arena might never be sold out again.
But if Barkley and Hornacek are hired to run the Suns, would Dad or my friend buy back in immediately? Probably not (the team still sucks). But they would at least consider it. Their hearts would pitter-patter with hope and excitement. Their minds would harken back to the glory days of Suns basketball. They would smile, for the first time in a long time, at the future prospects of the Suns franchise.
But are these guys REALLY in the hunt to return to the Suns?
One rumor is from an off the cuff comment by Shaquille O'Neal on TV. At the end of their nightly TNT show during the playoffs, Shaq riffed that Barkley - who was apparently less jovial and cavalier on TNT than usual all evening - was "auditioning" for the Suns GM job. In response, Barkley said... nothing.
Does that mean Barkley had (or would soon) interview for the Suns GM post? Or is that just some made-up crap? The use of the word "auditioning" is suspect to me. Auditioning is for television. Interviewing is for jobs. Was it a simple slip of the tongue?
The other rumor, the one on Hornacek, is even sketchier. Adrian Wojnarowski, the most plugged in NBA reporter in the business, wrote that Hornacek "could be considered" for the Suns' head coach position. It was an innocuous comment that offered no backing, no sourcing. But if it came from Woj, could it be laced with truth?
As you can see, this is all sketchy.
But if I were Lon Babby, I would interview Barkley. Without even thinking twice. Would I expect to hire him? Probably not. But I would want to talk to him. I would want to give Barkley a chance to "wow" me. I would want to compare his answers to my tough questions to the answers I got from real, live front office guys. I would want to see how Barkley stacked up. I've hired novices before, and been successful because of it, thanks to this strategy. And I've discounted novices too, when their answers just didn't stack up. The key is having an open mind.
Jeff Hornacek, on the other hand, is a much better known quantity. He's been an assistant with Utah for years and has a great demeanor. He fits the bill of former players who became successful coaches - he did more with less all through his career. He wasn't the most skilled or most athletic, but he made himself into a star nonetheless. He knows how to mold, and shape, and make it work.
Let's pretend, for a moment, both of these rumors are true. What would a team run by Babby, Barkley and Hornacek look like?
Well, exactly as it looks today. At least for a while.
The Suns have 10 guys under contract for next season already. Barkley would have to hit the ground running (I don't think he's run anywhere in a decade at least) to make a number of trades if he wants to reshape the roster. He clearly doesn't like the one that's already here.
Barkley, who has never held an NBA front office position, would have to learn the ins and outs from Lon Babby, whose only been here for three years, and remake an entire roster within months. Could he do it? Would it be even better than the one he's got now? It's one thing to say what you'd do, to "audition" for a job, but it's quite another to actually DO it well.
I don't think Barkley would be hired over up-and-comers Jeff Weltman or Ryan McDonough, or even a seasoned veteran like Scott Layden or David Morway.
But it sure is fun to think about, isn't it?
Charles Barkley at GM. Maybe he would hire Grant Hill to work alongside him?
Jeff Hornacek at coach. Maybe Horny would hire Eddie Johnson as an assistant to be the team's shooting coach? Or Tom Chambers to coach the big men. Or Paul Westphal to give awesome post-game speeches. Or all three, for goodness sakes.
The team might suck, but at least the fans would get enjoy the press conferences again.