The off-season is borderline complete and angst that is August is upon basketball fans to where jersey unvailings and schedule releases are MAJOR NEWS. So instead falling in line with that we are looking at a topic that is relevant to a young team -- Breakout Star.

Who will break out? Who will won't? Pins. Needles. WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN???

Eleventh Topic: Five Yearbook Category Awards!!!

Breaking the Ice: Who is your candidate for Breakout Player of the Year for the 2013-2014 Phoenix Suns? Explain.

Jim Coughenour: Marcus Morris. I don't think many people expect much from him, but I expect him to separate himself from his brother this season. I think he can successfully play the role of a stretch four/wing depending on matchups. A role that Markieff seems to be smitten with, but has shown me no reason to believe he will ever be successful at. The difference? I think Marcus can be a 35%+ volume three point shooter.

Jacob Padilla: This roster is full of players the Suns would certainly like to see break out. Kendall Marshall, the Morri and even Michael Beasley could all bounce back from terrible season and become valuable rotation players moving forward. Perhaps Goran Dragic could even break out and take a step forward. But the most likely candidate is of course new Sun Eric Bledsoe. He's stepping out from Chris Paul's shadow and is ready to prove he's more than just a good back-up.

Dave King: The easy answer is Eric Bledsoe. Simply by getting the most minutes per game from an under-25 player since 2007 (anything over 24 minutes would do it), the Suns will finally be playing an on-the-rise star while they are still on-the-rise. Bledsoe has the talent to make him a Phoenix Sun in the world's minds, rather than Chris Paul's backup. His best future position might be microwave-off-the-bench, but in Phoenix with this team he'll be Mr. Everything.

Kris Habbas: Like all accolades and awards this is about opportunity. Which Suns player will get the opportunity to be a breakout player? I expect to see Marcus Morris take over the role Michael Beasley was supposed to have here as the tweener scorer off the bench. He is confident and willing to go get his anytime, which on a good team is not a positive skill, but here that is just a need with Beasley and Markieff being so passive...

Richard Parker: I have to go with the easy answer here: Eric Bledsoe. He'll finally be getting starting minutes, and on a team that wants to run, no less. I expect him to be a dynamic, yet erratic player for the team. If he doesn't agree to an extension before the start of the season, I absolutely expect him to come out and try to earn as much as he can this year.

Sean Sullivan: I'm going to go with Bledsoe. He'll finally have his chance to come back out from under CP3's shadow and prove what so many have projected him to be. I think playing along side Dragic will be a blessing for him, by allowing him to focus on scoring more than running an offense.

Secondary to that, who do you feel has to breakout this year for their career, the Suns season, and the overall future of the team? Explain.

JP: Well, each of the Morris twins and Marshall have to have break-out type years if they hope to have any place on the Suns' roster moving forward. They were drafted by the previous regime and now have to impress the new coaching staff and front office if they want to stick around. As far as the Suns and the team's future, Eric Bledsoe is again the obvious answer. He was McDonough's first big acquisition, and whether the Suns extend him early or not, a successful season for him is a great sign that the team really is on the right track.

DK: If you categorize this answer in terms of "for their career", then that applies to nearly every player on the roster. Frankly, if you fail to excel on a 20-win team your career is in trouble. If you fail for two straight years in that situation, your career is over. You may dot some depth charts for a few more years, but your career is done. And if every player that failed last year ends up failing again, the Suns future is dimmer than many hope. One or two of Morris, Morris, Marshall, Beasley and Plumlee needs to step into a true NBA rotation player role.

KH: Speaking of Markieff! He was the 13th overall pick in 2012 taken ahead of Kawhi Leonard and Kenneth Faried that were viable options that year. He has to step up and prove he is more than just a guy that shoots jumpers (and only at 34.1% career) and can play inside. His development is most pivotal in my opinion.

RP: Eric Bledsoe again. The Suns are betting on a breakout season from Bledsoe and if he doesn't, the Dudley trade will have been for naught. The team needs a young player that they can hope can develop into a star and Bledsoe will need to show flashes of that this year. I'm not expecting too much from the rookies in their first years but I think Bledsoe's emergence this season will be an important factor for the Suns' future.

SS: While it would be easy to go with Marshall here, I think the real answer is Markieff. Remember, Markieff was drafted a year before Marshall, and while he has shown a little more than Kelndall thus far, I don't think he's where the team envisioned him to be after his fast start in his rookie season. This season will show whether or not the Suns can ever expect him to be more than a back up big.

JC: EB. He has the most upside of any player that's not a rookie. Risk/reward moves like this need to pay off to hasten a rebuild. Dudley wasn't a huge asset, but if Bledsoe flames out, or becomes a one year rental, it will have been a squandered resource.

On the other side of that who are you not as confident in seeing a spike in performance and play? Explain.

DK: I am fairly confident that four or five of Morris, Morris, Marshall, Beasley and Plumlee will fail to establish themselves as true NBA rotation players this season. They will get minutes, but like last year it will be obvious that they are only getting those minutes because the team is so bad. Why am I confident? Because I just watched them play 90 games that way (except Plumlee, of course).

KH: Based on the roster I can see Kendall Marshall taking a dramatic shift in minutes played this game if he struggles out of the gates. If that happens then he could be looking up at Dragic, Bledsoe, Brown, and Goodwin on the depth chart.

RP: Michael Beasley (easy answer once again). Although I have hope that any of the players can do better under a new coach and a new system, I'm apprehensive about Beasley. I think he will be on a short leash this season so if he doesn't come out motivated and with great effort (starting in training camp), I don't think he'll do very well. And I'm just not sure about the prospects of Michael Beasley playing with motivation and effort.

SS: I'll say Marshall here, because I don't know if he'll really be given the chance. I still think he can grow into an effective point guard in this league, but I'm not sure it will ever be with the Suns. I don't know if he fits with the identity that this team is trying to establish, and he may even be traded before the start of the season for all we know.

JC: The team as a whole. I won't pick on the Beaz anymore, even though he sucks (see what I did there hehehe), so I'll go with Markieff. Dude played like garbage last year. If they throw him out there to start it will be like tossing a carcass in a den of lions... and a carcass could have probably duplicated his performance last season. What's funny is that his one plus level skill, rebounding, hasn't translated to the NBA. Maybe because he thinks he's a three point shooter. Which is understandable since he has no post game. He's got a lot of work to do to even establish himself as a rotation player on a decent team.

JP: RIchard and I are again on the same page on this one. Michael Beasley had the worst season of his career last year, and I doubt he's going to be that bad. However, I think he is what he is at this point of his career and while I expect better performances, I don't expect the improvement to be enough to make him a worthwhile player.

The team is clearly lacking in leadership with the young roster and Ryan McDonough mentioned P.J. Tucker, Goran Dragic, and Caron Butler as leaders. Who would you like to see as the teams vocal and on the court leaders? Explain.

KH: To be honest, no. Other than Dragic and Tucker there are not really any players that have the cache to be a leader for this team; maybe Channing Frye. Those three need to control the locker room and set the tone. Always a fan of young players taking their lumps and earning their stripes. That could happen in season with this team.

RP: I definitely want to see Dragic, Butler and Bledsoe be very vocal on the court. As the lead playmakers, Dragic and Bledsoe will need to be floor leaders during games by communicating with their teammates. I'm also counting on Butler to be a great presence in the locker room and use his experience to have a calming effect on the young players during the rough patches that the team will go through in games and throughout the season.

SS: I'd like to see more leadership from Dragic, but I don't know if he'll ever be a true leader on the court. I think Butler could step into this role, but it's anyone's guess who will actually become that guy.

JC: Ideally this would be Dragic, since he might actually have a future with the team, but passivity is ingrained in his DNA - Dragic Not Assertive. This will probably be Frye if he's healthy. If not, maybe EB.

JP: I think Dragic and Bledsoe can be fiery, lead-by-example type of players this season. We've seen evidence of this from both of them. However, I don't think either one are overtly vocal and that's not likely to change. Caron Butler and Channing Frye (assuming a return to health) will have to be the vocal guys. We've also seen that P.J. Tucker is not afraid to pull younger players aside and explain things to them when the situation calls for such action.

DK: The Suns true vocal, on-the-court leader is not on the team yet, unless you count Jeff Hornacek. Secondary to Hornacek, the best leader for this young, ragtag team is having a known system to run. When in doubt, go with what you know. Last year's biggest refrain in the locker room was that the players were always running different plays (or different variations of the play) at the same time. If the coaching staff can get everyone on the same page with a fun, easy-to-remember system that makes them look good, it will be easy to get guys into the right positions.

Should the team delegate leaders, roles, and more for the team or should that come organically? Explain.

RP: To a certain extent, some delegation is necessary. Both of the captains from last year's team, Dudley and O'Neal, are no longer here. Therefore, the staff needs to appoint a captain that the entire team can respect. However, the actual leaders and on-court generals should be decided organically. Players will recognize and respect leadership when they see it being displayed, not when they're told to follow a team-appointed leader.

SS: No need to force things with a rebuilding team struggling to find their identity. Let it happen naturally and see who rises to the top as the next Nash, Hill, or Dudley.

JC: Roles need to be assigned, but contrived leadership rarely succeeds. Players will vote on team captains. Players who are venerable will be venerated. I think the team will still be rudderless this year, especially at the beginning, but maybe people will mature and step up as the season progresses. Or the fog of apathy could settle in again once the savage beatings ensue.

JP: I don't think delegation is the right word. It's more recognition of who those guys are on this roster. You can't make a player a leader just by telling him to be one. It's up to Jeff Hornacek to get a good enough feel for his roster and to identify who those guys are that he is going to be able to rely upon as the leaders of his team.

DK: Definitely, every player needs to know his role. Each person may have multiple roles depending on the lineup, but those roles must be clearly defined for each lineup variation. Last year, players did not know their roles and that led to discomfort and quick finger pointing once the going got tough. Leaders, on the other hand, can be developed organically.

KH: I am a fan of that happening organically despite last season the team taking 82 games to find one and to this day they are still looking. Goran Dragic the engine, but may not be comfortable as a leader and Eric Bledsoe is a ball of energy, but is he a leader? No Jared Dudley and the veterans are not going to be a part of the future... In this situation the team might benefit from developing select leaders unless one jumps out at/before Training Camp.

BONUS: Jim stated at the beginning of the season if you told him the season numbers on Michael Beasley and Markieff Morris that he could predict the wins for 2012-2013... Who are the Suns barometers this season?

SS: Dragic and Bledsoe. I think those are our best players at the moment so I think the Suns will go as they go. Plus, the rest of the roster is so unpredictable at the moment that it's anyone's guess who the other top players on the court will be for the Suns this season, or who else will even be on the roster for that matter.

JC: That turned out to be prophetic, because those two sucked out loud and so did the team. I will deviate slightly here since this team will be lucky to win 30 games. My harbingers of future success will be the health of Alex Len and the EB dynamic. Those will be the two players I will focus on this season.

JP: This is a tough one because I still have no idea what the depth chart will look like. We can't really count on the rookies. I don't even know which of of Beasley, Brown, Green and Mook will be in the rotation. If Frye is healthy, that lessens Keef's importance. I suppose Eric Bledsoe is the safest answer for this as well. If Bledsoe can be the guy we're hoping he is, not only does that give the Suns good production from the shooting guard/back-up point guard spot, but it should also only help take some pressure off Dragic and allow him to play even better. Marcin Gortat in a contract year could also be that guy for the Suns.

DK: Interesting question. Since the "goal" of many Suns fans is to finish the season with a very exciting and promising 25-57 record, then the true barometers of the Suns record will be Caron Butler and Marcin Gortat. If those guys are putting up 30 and 20 together in December, the Suns will likely be winning more games than they "should" and Hornacek will start playing to win rather than develop kids.

KH: I am going to go with how many games Marcin Gortat plays in a Suns uniform and the minutes per game for Archie Goodwin. If Gortat plays limited games (injury or trade) then the Suns are devoid or even inept in the paint. Then with Goodwin, if he is closer to 20-25 minutes per game that means the team if developing the younger players and trending towards being a bottom five team in the league.

RP: Eric Bledsoe and Markieff Morris. I've already talked about why the emergence of the former is important to this team's future, but the latter also needs to have the best season of his career this year in order to assert himself as part of the team's future. I'm not sure if he can or will, but Markieff will have the opportunity to play a big role and definitely needs to show some serious improvement on the court this year, especially with Luis Scola gone.

Everybody loves rankings and grades, right? Well I decided to use both to sort NBA players into tiers, including former Phoenix Sun Steve Nash and current Suns Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Kendall Marshall. What do you think of my rankings? Who am I too kind to? Who am I sleeping on? DISCUSS!


S : Best in the game (LeBron James)

A+ : Right on heels of best player (Kevin Durant)

A : Top 5 player

A- : Top 5 at position/Potential All-NBA players

B+ : All-Stars

B : Good starters/fringe All-Stars

B- : Good starter

C+ : decent starter

C : fringe starter/bench player

C- : good bench player

D+ : average bench player

D : Fringe rotation player

D- : bad player

F : not NBA caliber

Factors: production+efficiency+talent (emphasis on this year but whole career taken into account)

*Note: There is no specific order within each tier.

Tier 1 (A)

- Chris Paul

Chris Paul is clearly the top point guard in the game in my opinion and one of the best players in the entire league.

Tier 2 (A-)

- Russell Westbrook

- Derrick Rose

- Tony Parker

- Deron Williams

Deron Williams probably doesn't belong in this category after his years with the Nets, but I'm not giving up on him just yet.

Tier 3 (B+)

- Stephen Curry

- Kyrie Irving

- John Wall

- Rajon Rondo

With the exception of Rondo, this is a group of really talented up-and-coming point guards that are going to be total studs in their primes.

Tier 4 (B)

- Mike Conley

- Ty Lawson

- Damian Lillard

- Goran Dragic

- Kyle Lowry

- Steve Nash

- Jrue Holiday

These are really good players. Some of them are on the way up, some of them are on the way down, but they're all right on the edge between solid starter and All-Star consideration. They all have their flaws
most players do.

Tier 5 (B-)

- Ricky Rubio

- Jeff Teague

Rubio really need to become a better scorer before he makes the jump to a higher tier.

Tier 6 (C+)

- Greivis Vasquez

- George Hill

- Jeremy Lin

- Kemba Walker

Good, solid players, but nothing special.

Tier 7 (C)

- Raymond Felton

- Nate Robinson

- Jarrett Jack

- Andre Miller

- Jose Calderon

- Steve Blake

- Reggie Jackson

- Jameer Nelson

- Mario Chalmers

- Mo Williams

- Brandon Jennings

- Darren Collison

- Eric Bledsoe

- Devin Harris

- Kirk Hinrich

All these players can start if they need to, but they'd be best coming off the bench on a good team.

Tier 8 (C-)

- Isaiah Thomas

- J.J. Barea

- Ramon Sessions

- Beno Udrih

- C.J. Watson

Solid back-up point guards.

Tier 9 (D+)

- Norris Cole

- Sebastian Telfair

- D.J. Augustin

- Patrick Beverley

- Brian Roberts

- Jimmer Fredette

- Pablo Prigioni

- Cory Joseph

- Eric Maynor

Decent back-ups. They all have their strengths.

Tier 10 (D)

- Shaun Livingston

- Jamaal Tinsley

- Mike James

- Earl Watson

- Charles Jenkins

- Nando De Colo

- Daniel Gibson

- A.J. Price

These guys can fill in as a back-up depending on how the rest of your roster looks.

Tier 11 (D-)

- Derek Fisher

- Marquis Teague

- Kendall Marshall

- Tony Wroten

You probably don't want these guys playing many minutes for your team.

Tier 12 (F)

- Ronnie Price

- Nolan Smith

- Chris Duhon

- Darius Morris

Bad, bad basketball players.

And there it is. What do the Bright Siders think of my first batch of grades/rankings/tiers?

S : Best in the game (LeBron)A+ : Right on heels of best player (Durant)

A : Top 5 player

A- : Top 5 at position/Potential All-NBA players

B+ : All-Stars

B : Good starters/fringe All-Stars

B- : Good starter

C+ : decent starter

C : fringe starter/bench player

C- : good bench player

D+ : average bench player

D : Fringe rotation player

D- : bad player

F : not NBA caliber

Factors: production+efficiency+talent (emphasis on this year but whole career taken into account)

*Note: There is no specific order within each tier

- Previous Position Breakdowns -

For the purpose of these grades/rankings, I am not looking at last season in a vacuum. I am trying to give an idea of where each of these players stands in regards to each other after last season. One poor season doesn't sink a player's stock if the rest of his career paints a different story, the exact opposite is true as well.However, I am not factoring potential into my rankings, meaning rookies are graded as NBA players and do not garner special consideration because of their youth.

I'm probably making this more complicated and subjective than it needs to be, but I suppose that only makes for more discussion. With that being said, on to the rankings.

Tier 1 (A-)

Harden_medium Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA Today Sports

Wade had an injury-plagued season, but is still one of the best players in the game. Harden proved himself in his first season as a No. 1 option. Kobe is still Kobe. All three are tremendous talents, but all three also have flaws in their games that keeps any one of them from jumping ahead of the others for me.

Tier 2 (B)

The shooting guard position is the weakest in the NBA right now. I can't even find any clear-cut all-stars outside of the top three so I don't even have a B+ tier. Even these two B players are shaky. Ginobili was a shell of himself last year and appears to be in decline, and Gordon hasn't looked like himself or even been healthy since leaving L.A.

Tier 3 (B-)

Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA Today

This is a tough tier as well. Johnson, Afflalo and Redick all had down years by their standards, but none of them were in great situations and I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt. I'm not even sure where to put Monta Ellis, who is very talented but doesn't play a winning style.

Tier 4 (C+)

This is a tier of guys who get buckets but don't do much else. Vince Carter, surprisingly enough, might be a bit low based on last season. He was one of the better all-around guards in the game, which again shows how weak the position is.

Tier 5 (C)

 Shumpert_medium Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

This is a tier of role players who are pretty good at their roles. Lockdown defenders, knockdown shooters and Bradley Beal, a young player who started off slow but got better and better as the season rolled on.

Tier 6 (C-)

I'm probably being a little kind to some of the players here, especially the rookies who weren't really all that good in their first season. They all have talent but most of them struggle with efficiency.

Tier 7 (D+)

Brown_medium Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

These guys are decent players that more or less deserve to be in a team's rotation. They each have their strengths. But all of them are pretty replaceable. Salmons and Hamilton probably don't belong here anymore and haven't been good (or healthy) the last year or two. And as much as we dislike Shanon Brown, he's not completely awful and has his moments.

Tier 8 (D)

Tier 9 (D-)

Gordon_medium Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Ben Gordon was just awful for the Bobcats last year. He was one of the worst defenders in the entire league and was pretty bad on offense as well. The others didn't show very much at all either.

Tier 10 (F)

These were a few of the worst players in the entire league last year. They didn't really do anything well.

You know the drill. DISCUSS.


Our younger readers don't have a recollection of Hornacek's time as a member of the Phoenix Suns. Unless you're around my age (34) or older then it was before your time. Let this be a glimpse into Jeff's thoughts about a portion of Suns' history prior to your fandom. For the readers older more experienced than me, without getting mawkish, this will hopefully refresh your memory of a great era of Suns' basketball. Some people's favorite era.

The Drug Scandal

"I have great memories from when I was here in Phoenix. When I was a rookie we had basically five draft picks that year and four of us made it. Myself, Rafael Addison, Kenny Gattison and William Bedford, so that was a time where this was all new to us playing in the NBA," said Hornacek. "Then we had, obviously, the drug scandal that happened."

This was the darkest hour of Suns' basketball. An eclipse of epic proportions. A drug scandal involving current and former Suns' players was a blight on the team. A more thorough examination of these events can be read in a Sports Illustrated article here.

"The biggest thing was Kenny Gattison and Rafael Addison and I would ride to practice every day. We lived in the same apartment complex. When we came into practice all of a sudden all of the media came flying at us and we were like, "What the heck's going on?" and we were the guys standing there like, "OK, we had no idea." We were just sitting there kind of minding our own business, young guys, young players."

Talk about being blindsided showing up to work. This type of chaos surely shook every person in the organization, but it was probably even more difficult for the young players to comprehend. The current leadership of the Suns has talked about developing a culture that fosters growth and development in its players. This was not that culture.

"That was something that was a great memory, not really a great memory, but one that really influenced our thought of the NBA and that you need to go on your own course and work as hard as you can at your game and not worry about some of the other stuff that is going on. It was really some bad times at that point. Then, when we made the trade for Kevin Johnson, Mark West and Tyrone Corbin. Cotton Fitzsimmons comes in and everything kind of seemed to be headed in the right direction."

The Rebuild and the 90's Playoffs

The palingenesis of the team in such a brief interval was a convergence of new management, Jerry Colangelo, new (old) coaching, Cotton Fitzsimmons, and brilliant talent acquisitions, Kevin Johnson, Eddie Johnson, Tom Chambers, Mark West and Dan Majerle. Some may even remember a rookie from the University of Arizona named Steve Kerr.

"I always thought I was going to be a guy who played my whole career in Phoenix, I was obviously naïve to that fact, but I was the only guy they had kept from that whole time. Once we made the trade for Kevin and those guys everybody was gone except for me. There were times we thought we had a chance to win a championship, but couldn't get over the hump," lamented Hornacek. "That Portland series always rings a bell in my mind, in 1990, but the whole trade thing was something where I thought it was a great deal for Phoenix. Obviously we needed a power, post-up player and Barkley fit that mold. Unfortunately, it was me that me that was in on the deal."

The deal sent Hornacek, Tim Perry and Andrew Lang to Philadelphia for troubled superstar Charles Barkley. I shared with Jeff that I can still remember exactly where I was when the news broke on June 17, 1992... 6 years to the day when the Suns originally drafted him. Little league baseball was in swing at my junior high school, but I didn't have a game that night, so I was playing basketball on the courts that separated two of the fields. Someone came onto the courts and told me the news, obviously this was just prior to the invention of twitter, and it spread across the ball fields like wildfire. I can still remember feeling conflicted. While the Suns had acquired what may have been the final piece in their championship puzzle, they had just traded the longest tenured Sun and my favorite basketball player.

"It was just something that I thought would never happen. I told the story before that I would have traded myself. When I was in Seattle we were exercising and I told myself that was the guy that we need and that's who we (the Suns - notice the use of we) ended up with. That was just one of the things that I remember here in Phoenix. I thought that maybe at some point I'd end up back here, but the way things turned out, with my six years in Utah and a having a couple of chances at championships, it worked out for me. I didn't know if I'd ever be back in the Phoenix Suns' organization, so it was great when they called me to interview and I talked with Robert, Lon and Ryan and it seemed like it would be a good fit for me and a good fit for them. So on we go."

I felt that Jeff seemed evidently despondent when describing his ouster. Just my take.

"The one play that always sticks out to me is when we played the Lakers in the playoffs in LA. We were up by a couple points with 30 seconds left in the game and I had the ball on the wing and ran a pick and roll with Mark West and a couple guys jumped out at me, I think it was Worthy and Magic Johnson, and left Mark wide open and I dumped it to him. He dunked it and basically that was the game and ended the series, in LA (emphasis), which was huge for us and all our young guys running off the court."

Jeff's memory is a little bit hazy. It was 1:09, not 30 seconds. Look at the 7:28 point on the video for the play Hornacek is referring to. Jeff also hit four clutch free throws coming down the stretch. I personally enjoyed when the announcer said, "If Phoenix wins this series you can point to the play of Jeff Hornacek."

Here's the video of the closing moments, because I'm sure everyone will want to reminisce over/experience the Suns closing out the Lakers on their home floor.

"We were so excited, to get back on the plane to come back to Phoenix. The airport was packed, there were 10-15,000 people at the airport welcoming us back. It was a battle. To me, at that time it wasn't just the Suns against the Lakers. It was Phoenix against LA. Not to sound country, but it was the small town versus the big town, and I think that was part of why the city was so excited at that point. That one play sticks out in my memory as the biggest play."

That's right, Jeff. Beat LA.

Coaching Philosophy

"I think everything I do as a coach comes from somebody. You learn everything as you're growing up. My dad was a coach and I learned a lot from him. Johnny Orr from Iowa St. made the game fun. John Macleod gave me great responsibility in calling plays on the court as a rookie."

Hornacek was a great distributor as a two and that contributed to the success of two of the great backcourt duos of all time. Kevin Johnson and Hornacek combined for 16.4 assists per game in the 1989-90 season. In 1994-95 with Stockton it was 16.6. Last season, the Suns starting backcourt averaged 10. That's if you count Dudley as the starting shooting guard, because his 2.6 per game was third highest on the team behind Kendall Marshall. Hornacek, despite declining assist numbers in the second half of his career, averaged 4.9 assists per game for his career. Having play making abilities definitely added to being a near career 50/40/90 player (.496/.403/.877) and made Jeff an invaluable commodity.

"Cotton was a guy that not only made the game fun, but was a guy that was always trying to build his players' confidence and got the most out of his players in that way. Guys loved to play for him," said Hornacek. "We were a team that nobody cared who scored. One night it might be Tom Chambers would score 30-35 points, the next night it would be Kevin Johnson who scored 30-35, the next night I might have had 30, the next night EJ might have had 30."

That was just like last season for the Suns except the complete opposite.

"To us, it didn't matter who scored, it was all about winning the game and playing the game the right way. Making the right pass. We were all happy for each other and I thought Cotton really brought that to the team, so I learned that from him."

This will be something to keep an eye on next season. Can Hornacek get his players to buy in and play for each other, rather than having an "I'm gonna get mine" attitude? It seems it may have been easier to buy into a team concept when Jeff came into the league because there wasn't the privilege, coddling and stupid money that permeates the current environment. Last season wasn't necessarily a model of teamwork and selflessness.

"Jerry Sloan just instructed us night in and night out - never take a play off. It didn't matter if it was the beginning of the game or the end of the game. It didn't matter what the lead was," reflected Hornacek. "He told us, "If you can walk into the locker room after the game and look in the mirror and say that you laid it all out there on every play tonight and we still lost, then so be it, but at least you can still look yourself in the mirror and know you put out full effort." These are some of the things that I've learned from all of my coaches that I learned as a player that I will continue to use as a coach.

Hornacek finished the interview discussing his former coaches and sounded passionate about the lessons he had learned from them. I look for that passion to extend into his time roaming the sidelines this season. Based on his pedigree he has a great foundation to embark on this next challenge in his life.


Record: 10-10

Place In Standings: Third

Points Per Game: 82.8

Points Against: 84.9


All things considered, the Phoenix Mercury should consider trying to change conferences if that is possible. After another win over the L'Eastern Conference the team improved to 6-1 against the best teams out east, but remain 4-9 against the Western Conference. A large part of that is an 0-5 record against the Minnesota Lynx.

The team got a rare win over a playoff caliber team, but as head coach Corey Gaines stated, "right now we are just worried about us."

With 15 total games remaining in the season the Mercury still have a chance to rattle off a few wins to chase down the Los Angeles Sparks, 13-7 on the season, and only 3.5 games back. The Mercury play nine straight opponents that are currently under .500 on the season. Time to play catch-up and there are a few ways they can do this going forward...


Zone Defense

"We are getting better," Gaines said. "Every team is different."

Obviously the team is going to only get better in the zone with time going from game to game and even quarter to quarter. In the first half against the Atlanta Dream the Mercury did not show well as they pulled Brittney Griner out of the paint and scored on back door cuts like clockwork. It was almost too easy.

The parts are getting put in the right position, but whether they go small, big, or traditional with the line-up the zone is still a work in progress.

"Phoenix put a zone in there a little bit more upscale," Dream coach Fred Williams said about the Mercury Zone. "We took some shots and they kind of got some runs out of us."

After the game it was clear that Mercury can get the zone going as a weapon for them on the defensive end translating to more offense. It also allows the Mercury to play with a certain intensity...


Playing Angry

On top of playing the zone more effectively the Mercury turned the corner last week playing angry. That seems like a simple and odd strategy, or simply odd, but nonetheless the team responded well when they fell behind. That gave them an edge, a chip, and an aura of angry confidence that lit the fire under the team on both ends of the floor.

The team came out strong with that edge attacking the rim, playing with a controlled aggressiveness, and slowing the game down.

In the second half of the victory over the Dream the Mercury slowed things down to a halt. The first half featured 55 possessions and a three-point deficit. The team was playing too fast and sloppy. In the second half they cooled things down with 45 total possessions (despite 10 more turnovers) and a nine-point swing to get the victory. That style requires every player to play with a chip every game and every quarter to take advantage of that desperate, but effective style.

That will be needed with the upcoming schedule this week of tough, but winnable games for the Mercury...


Upcoming Schedule:

Tuesday vs. Seattle Storm at 7 p.m. AZ Time

Friday vs. Tulsa Shock at 7 p.m. AZ Time

Sunday vs. Tulsa Shock at 3 p.m. AZ Time

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