Sputtering Suns fire 2 assistant coaches
PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns, losers of 15 of their last 20 games, have fired assistant coaches Mike Longabardi and Jerry Sichting.
Nate Bjorkgren was promoted to take Longabardi’s job as defensive coordinator. Assistant Earl Watson also was promoted to a bench coach position.
The overhaul of coach Jeff Hornacek’s staff comes after an embarrassing home loss to Philadelphia on Saturday night. The Suns are 12-20 and are 12th in the Western Conference. They entered Monday night’s home game against Eastern Conference leader Cleveland on a four-game losing streak.
“We haven’t been getting the results we’re looking for,” general manager Ryan McDonough said after the Suns’ Monday morning shootaround, “and we just wanted to shake things up.”
Hornacek knows he could be the next to go.
“We’re going to try to get things changed around,” he said. “We’re not quitting on anything. We’re just going to continue to work and try to implement a couple of different things and see if we can get it going. Whatever happens after that, you can’t get concerned about that.”
McDonough noted the team is still in the playoff hunt and gave Hornacek something of an endorsement.
“Despite all our struggles and despite disappointing play lately, we’re two games out of the playoffs with 50 games to go, which is not insurmountable,” McDonough said. “Jeff has every opportunity and will continue to have every opportunity as we all work ourselves out of this hole and try to get back on the right track.”
Sichting came to the Suns when Hornacek was hired in 2013 after stints on coaching staffs at Washington and Golden State. He also was an assistant at Marquette for three seasons and played in the NBA for 11 seasons.
Longabardi was the Suns’ lead defensive coach. He came to the Suns in 2013 after six seasons on Doc Rivers’ staff with the Boston Celtics.
Watson was a point guard for 13 seasons in the NBA, playing for seven teams before retiring in 2013. He was an assistant for the Austin Spurs of the NBA D-League last season and was hired by the Suns last July.
Bjorkgren was appointed assistant coach/player development director for the Suns in July. Before that, he spent one season as head coach at Bakersfield in the NBA Development League.
“I think Jerry and Mike were very good at the strategic part and showing what’s going to happen,” Hornacek said, “but sometimes maybe the guys need a different kind of philosophical stuff that maybe Earl and Nate can bring to the table and see if that makes a difference.”
The moves come after a low point Saturday night. Phoenix lost at home 111-104 to a Philadelphia team that entered the game with a 1-30 record and winless on the road this season.
In the defeat, the Suns lost point guard Eric Bledsoe. He will undergo surgery on Tuesday to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. McDonough would say only that he hopes Bledsoe returns later this season.
Markieff Morris did not play in the 76ers debacle. He was serving the first of a two-game suspension levied by the Suns for throwing a towel at Hornacek during the Suns’ loss to Denver on Wednesday night.
McDonough seemed to rule out any major personnel moves.
“We’re looking to do what we can on our end. Roster moves and things like that will be considered,” he said. “But at the same time this is a team that started the year 7-5. After 10 games we were in the top 10 in the league offensively and defensively in terms of efficiency, so I’m not sure the answer is just turning over the roster, doing anything reactionary in the short term.
“We tried to shake up the staff and we’ll see how it goes.”