Jeff Hornacek on leaving Jazz, Tyrone Corbin and his one NBA dunk
Phoenix • Jeff Hornacek became the head coach of the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday, bringing to an end a relationship with the Utah Jazz that was approaching 20 years.
The well-liked assistant was a popular choice in Phoenix, where Hornacek spent the first six years of his career.
Following a press conference, Hornacek reflected on his time with the Jazz, both as a player and a coach, talked about the future of the team and told the story of the one time he attempted to dunk.
Hornacek spent most of his career playing under legendary coaches Cotton Fitzsimmons and Jerry Sloan. But the only time he has spent on an NBA bench has been alongside Tyrone Corbin, his former Suns' and Jazz teammate.
Asked what he found to be Corbin's strengths, Hornacek cited the three-year coach's ability to relate to players and his patience in difficult situations. Hornacek, who told Phoenix media he is typically reserved when it comes to criticizing players or being harsh said, "There were times when I might have tried to jump a guy and get after them, but Ty was very much a players' coach and I think guys really appreciated that.
Of course, you're going to have guys, the Rajas or whatever, where there's an issue, he was much more patient than I was and that was a great thing for him." Hornacek also found a strength where most critics see a flaw in Corbin's coaching: His management over the last two seasons of Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors as they fought for time with veterans Al Jefferson and Paul millsap.
"It's a very, very tough situation he's been in when you have talented young guys, you have talented veteran guys, you try to blend those two," Hornacek said.
He said Corbin did a good job of getting Kanter and Favors ready - as well as Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks - for when its their turn to lead the team, but also running the team through the veterans, who gave the Jazz the best chance to win.
"Tough job he had," Hornacek said. "I thought he's done great and I think he's set those guys up, the young guys. If they have a bigger role they're ready to go."
Hornacek now has a coaching staff to fill out. One guy that you can't help but wonder about is Karl Malone. Hornacek's Jazz teammate, the Hall of Famer, is constantly pitching himself as a coaching candidate, telling The Tribune over the weekend that he would be "interested" in replacing Hornacek on the Jazz bench.
Here's a thought: What about Malone joining Hornacek in Phoenix?
Hornacek laughed, then said: "Karl always wants to coach. I'll call him and see, but I can't ever imagine Karl - after two weeks he'll want to go fishing. It would be great."
It's well known that Jeff Hornacek didn't dunk. He made a point of saying so Tuesday. The point was that he made it in the NBA as unassuming, hard-working, not-particularly-showy pro. But that doesn't mean he didn't try.
Hornacek told the story of the one-time attempted a dunk in an NBA game, and it's a doozie.
First of all, Hornacek claimed he could dunk, a fact he tried to demonstrate early in his career in Phoenix.
Here's his account:
"We had this one game, I think we were playing Washington and I think we were up by about 30. When I played here, we were high flying. We happened to go down on a fast break and Kevin [Johnson] had the ball. Tom Chambers was on one wing and I was on the other and I go, 'I feel great tonight.' I said if Kevin throws me this ball I'm going to dunk it. He threw it to Tom and Tom dunked So we're running down the floor and I told Kevin, 'If you'd given it to me I was going to dunk it. It just happened to be there was no break in the action and we ran up and down the court about six times and then I stripped the guy and go in. Now after about six straight sprints, I go up and bang it off the back of the rim. The bench is on the ground laughing, the ball bounces up, we get the ball back, I slid out to the 3-point line and made the 3-point shot. So I always say, 'Oh, I just wanted the extra point.'"
It's somehow perfect that Hornacek's only career dunk was also a 3-pointer.