Jeff Hornacek’s retired jersey hangs in Salt Lake City, but his heart and his family are in Phoenix, where he was one of the most popular players in franchise history until he was sacrificed to bring Charles Barkley to Arizona.
Hornacek is hoping to be a Sun again and will talk with general manager Steve Kerr this week about the prospect of joining the new coaching staff, likely as an assistant. After waiting for his children to be old enough to be away from home, Hornacek spent last season as a special assistant with the Jazz, working closely with Andrei Kirilenko.
“I love the Valley, I live here and the prospect of joining the team is very attractive,” said Hornacek, who talked to Kerr about joining the team last year when Marc Iavaroni left Mike D’Antoni’s staff. “I played and enjoyed an up-tempo system when I played for Cotton (Fitzsimmons) with the Suns, and I played for two half-court masters in John MacLeod and Jerry Sloan. I feel very comfortable teaching both styles.”
Hornacek, who turned 45 earlier this month, isn’t the only Jazz coach the Suns are taking a look at. Another ex-Sun, Tyrone Corbin, will interview on Friday and lead assistant Phil Johnson is also expected to talk with Phoenix.
“Utah has developed that reputation for sound defensive principles and I’m sure that’s attractive to a team looking to add more of that,” Hornacek said. “I wasn’t the most talented guy in the league, but I got by for 14 years because I know the game and the things it takes to be successful. I felt like my coaches looked at me as a coach on the floor and I tried to take that responsibility.”
Hornacek lives in Paradise Valley with wife Stacey and children Ryan, Tyler and Abigail, who will enter high school in the fall.
“I always knew I wanted to coach after my kids were old enough and it’s time. Having it happen here would be the best possible situation,” he said.
Hornacek was a campus walk-on at Iowa State and parlayed the chance into an All-Big Eight Conference selection in 1986 under legendary coach Johnny Orr. He led the Cyclones to the Sweet 16 that year and still holds the school record for assists (665).
He was still an NBA long shot when he was taken 46th overall by the Suns in the draft, but quickly became a cult hero in Phoenix and, along with Kevin Johnson, Tom Chambers and Dan Majerle, revived the franchise following an ugly drug scandal. In his six seasons with Phoenix, the Suns reached the Western Conference finals twice — and he made the All-Star team in his final season.
But the next season, when the Suns saw their chance at a title in Barkley, they dealt Hornacek, Andrew Lang and Tim Perry to the 76ers. He finished his career with six seasons in Utah, where he helped the Jazz to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances in 1997 and 1998, losing to the Chicago Bulls each time.
BONUS SHOT: The Newark Star-Ledger reported Tuesday the New Jersey Nets made inquires about a trade involving Suns forward Boris Diaw and guard Leandro Barbosa, but sources report the discussions didn’t go far.