PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns, mired in one of the worst stretches in their history, have fired coach Jeff Hornacek and promoted Earl Watson to interim coach.
Watson was selected after interviews were conducted Monday with all three Suns assistants.
Watson was an NBA point guard for 13 seasons and was in his first season as a Suns assistant after a year as an assistant coach of the Austin Spurs of the NBA Development League.
The 36-year-old Watson retired as a player in 2014 after appearing in 878 games for Portland, Seattle/Oklahoma City, Memphis, Denver, Indiana and Utah.
The Suns’ season has been swirling rapidly down the drain for weeks and Hornacek must have known his days as coach were numbered.
The Suns finally fired him after the team ran its road losing streak to 14 games with a loss at Dallas on Sunday night.
The team issued a brief news release Monday morning announcing Hornacek’s dismissal after 2 1/2 seasons on the job. General manager Ryan McDonough and Watson are scheduled to talk to reporters about the changes at the Tuesday morning shootaround in advance of the game against Toronto.
Since the Suns fired Hornacek’s top two assistants — Jerry Sichting and Mike Longabardi — a month ago, there were only three assistants remaining on the Phoenix payroll — Watson, Corey Gaines and Nate Bjorkgren.
Watson inherits something of a mess of a roster and trades are a certainty by the Feb. 18 deadline.
To say defence has been a problem is an understatement.
Phoenix ranks last in the NBA in opponent’s field goal percentage, next-to-last in opponent’s 3-point percentage and last in opponent steals.
No wonder the Suns are mired in one of the worst stretches in history. The team has lost 10 of 11 games and 19 of its last 21. At 14-35, Phoenix’s record is tied for fourth worst in the NBA and the Suns are headed for a franchise-record sixth consecutive season without making the playoffs, all under owner Robert Sarver.
Phoenix plays its next five games, and nine of its next 10, at home.
This year’s team was expected to contend for the playoffs, but there were problems from the start when forward Markieff Morris said he wanted to be traded after the team dealt twin brother Marcus to Detroit in the off-season. Hornacek said Markieff never came to terms with his brother’s absence and his playing time dwindled, although he’s been on the court more often recently. Meanwhile, Marcus Morris repeatedly ripped the Suns organization from afar.
The Suns’ best player, Eric Bledsoe, tore knee cartilage in an embarrassing home loss to Philadelphia a month ago and is out for the season. It’s the second serious knee injury of his young career. Brandon Knight, who was supposed to team with Bledsoe in a double point-guard system, has been out with a groin strain. Backup point guard Ronnie Price also has been hurt.
The Suns’ main off-season acquisition, centre Tyson Chandler, also has battled injuries and has not been the stabilizing defensive force the club envisioned.
The injuries left youngsters Archie Goodwin, Devin Booker and T.J. Warren in significant roles. Booker has been a rare bright spot. The 19-year-old rookie has been selected to participate in the 3-point contest on All-Star weekend.
And the losses mounted at an alarming rate.
For now, Watson has two assistants.
Gaines is a former head coach of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury. Bjorkgren was named assistant coach/player development director of the Suns this season after one season as head coach of the Bakersfield Jam, Phoenix’s D-League affiliate.
Hornacek got off to a good start in his first head coaching job. Phoenix won 48 games in 2013-14, 23 more than the previous season, and just missed making the post-season. Hornacek was runner-up to Gregg Popovich for NBA coach of the year. But last season, the team slipped to 39-43.
Only four players remain on the active roster from Hornacek’s 48-win season.
Hornacek, 52, was a Utah Jazz assistant coach before being hired by the Suns. He played 14 seasons in the NBA, averaging 14.5 points as one of the league’s best shooters and was among his teams’ most popular players.