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Kragthorpe: Jeff Hornacek schools Jazz in his return to Utah

Published November 30, 2013 6:22 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

After three or four glances along the sideline, Phoenix's Jeff Hornacek and the Jazz's Tyrone Corbin finally connected Friday night, sharing waves and thumbs-up signs from about 50 feet away in the standard postgame exchanges of NBA coaches.

This month-old season already is dragging along in hopeless fashion for the Jazz, and some losses will register more than others. Let's just say the latest episode did not reflect well on Corbin. His team was schooled in a 112-101 defeat that marked the return of Hornacek, a beloved Jazzman who spent a combined nine seasons with the franchise as a player and assistant coach.

"We didn't give our best effort tonight," Corbin said.

Corbin's partly responsible for this problem, having made Hornacek a full-time assistant in February 2011 after Corbin replaced Jerry Sloan, helping prepare Hornacek for a head coaching opportunity.

As the Suns proceeded to overwhelm the Jazz with their efficient offense and 65 percent shooting through three quarters at EnergySolutions Arena, four weeks after beating them by three points in Phoenix, these musings inevitably came to mind:

If Corbin and Hornacek had traded teams in October, would the Suns stand 9-7 and the Jazz be 2-15?

How loud would the rumblings become about Corbin's future if Hornacek were available as a replacement?

If those thoughts are harsh, well, they're no more unfair than the impossible assignment that Jazz management has given Corbin with this roster.

Hornacek sought out Corbin, intending to encourage his old boss, before the teams headed to the airport to board flights to Phoenix in advance of tonight's rematch. "I know it's been tough on him," Hornacek said in the postgame interview, sounding more concerned than condescending. "His guys are young guys that have been thrown together. None of the guys have had the responsibility that they're now being put into. To have to deal with that is pretty tough."

The Suns also were projected as one of the NBA's worst four teams, though, and they're defying such labeling.

Monday, the Jazz barely dodged a loss to another of their historic figures when Chicago's Carlos Boozer missed an easy shot in a tie game and the Jazz won in overtime. That was a much different scenario, because Boozer is not exactly remembered as a fan favorite.

During pregame introductions, Hornacek received big cheers from the ESA crowd, and no wonder.

This is not like Larry Krystkowiak or Marc Iavaroni or even Adrian Dantley coming home as a visiting team's coach. This is Jeff Hornacek, one of the most popular players in Jazz history. The newly redesigned banner with the retired No. 14 hovered above him as he calmly paced the Phoenix sideline, usually with a hand in his pocket.

Hornacek chatted with Sloan outside the locker room before the game and then channeled him afterward. "We kind of goofed around for a little bit there in the fourth quarter," he said. "Consequently, we tell our guys, 'If you do that, not playing the right way, then you only score 17 points.' They've got to continue to play throughout the game."

Yet Phoenix's lead, which had reached 20 points, never dropped below 11. This certainly is a different-looking Suns team than the last season's model that "didn't give full effort every night," Hornacek said. Even with leading scorer Eric Bledsoe having missed six games — he returned Friday with 19 points — Phoenix is thriving.

"It's been a lot of fun," Hornacek said. "The guys are responsive and we're having a good time."

Here in Jazzland, nobody's saying anything like that.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt