Jeff Hornacek's dismissal from the Phoenix Suns should be the first of many, many dominoes to fall within one of the NBA's most tumultuous organizations. Adrian Wojnarowski of the Vertical first brought word that the Suns relieved Hornacek of his head coaching duties—a move that seemed inevitable for weeks.
The beginning of the end dates back to 2013-14.
Phoenix used mismatch-inciting, guard-loaded lineups to field a top-eight offense, tally 48 victories and finish a mere one game outside the Western Conference's playoff bubble. The Suns then doubled down on that model, re-signing Eric Bledsoe and acquiring Isaiah Thomas to play beside Goran Dragic before flipping those two for Brandon Knight of the Milwaukee Bucks midway through 2014-15.
Still hellbent on contending for a postseason berth, the Suns handed Knight a five-year deal over this offseason, signed an aging Tyson Chandler in a failed attempt to entice free-agent LaMarcus Aldridge, according to Wojnarowski, and rattled cages by sending Marcus Morris, the brother of Markieff Morris, to the Detroit Pistons in a blatant salary dump.
Markieff Morris publicly demanded a trade. Phoenix has yet to accommodate that request, and he is having the worst season of his career.
Chandler has been a bust. He, along with Morris, has consistently forfeited minutes in favor of Alex Len, Jon Leuer and Mirza Teletovic. Bledsoe is done for the year after having surgery on a torn meniscus. Knight hasn't played since Jan. 19 as he recovers from the groin injury.
Two of Hornacek's assistants were also canned in late December. The Suns are 2-15 since then and are now more than 20 games under .500—light-years away from a postseason dalliance.
Hornacek, if anything, is only guilty of not overachieving, thereby heightening the sense of confusion emanating out of Phoenix, as ESPN.com's Zach Lowe alluded to:
Knight has missed almost half PHX's games since the assistant coach purge, along w Bledsoe. Did Suns expect to win w/o both?— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) February 1, 2016
But someone had to take the fall for Phoenix's transgressions, as Fox Sports' Brett Pollakoff pointed out:
Suns firing Hornacek is completely ridiculous. But obviously, Ryan McDonough isn’t going to fire himself.— Brett Pollakoff (@BrettEP) February 1, 2016
Displacing blame only buys general manager Ryan McDonough and owner Robert Sarver a little time. They cannot continue misguided attempts to balance rebuilding with contending. For the Suns to totally, and truly, move forward, they must rip apart a roster that had no business being assembled in the first place.
Blowing. It. Up.
Very few should be considered untouchable if—when, really—the Suns clear their decks.
Devin Booker is the youngest player in the NBA and a human flamethrower; he's shooting better than 41 percent on three-point attempts, and his catch-and-shoot success rate on triples is absurd. Developing him is a necessity.
Archie Goodwin, Alex Len and T.J. Warren have made similar cases. They are each under the age of 23 and give the Suns some semblance of a foundation on which to build. There's no need to actively move them—unless it's for the right return.
Chandler, meanwhile, is Phoenix's lone "immovable" asset. Teams won't be knocking down the door to land a 33-year-old who is owed another $39 million after this season. Dealing him would, at minimum, take attaching a first-round pot-sweetener, and the Suns are in no position to dump any valuable assets (Cleveland's 2016 first-rounder, Miami's 2018 first-rounder, etc.) for additional cap space.
Inbound picks and prospects are the currency now, and Phoenix has the necessary trade fodder to effectively start anew.
Step 1: Breaking Up the Backcourt Band
Houston Rockets Receive: PG Brandon Knight and PF Markieff Morris
Phoenix Suns Receive: PF Terrence Jones, PG Ty Lawson, SG K.J. McDaniels and 2018 first-round pick
Houston and Phoenix apparently had serious discussions about a Jones-for-Morris swap, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein. This expands upon that purported interest.
The Suns have no business sinking $25 million-plus annually into the backcourt pairing of Bledsoe and Knight. Booker's rise has made one of them expendable, and it will be harder to capitalize on Bledsoe's value when he won't suit up until 2016-17.
Knight has mostly underachieved in Phoenix. He owns one of the team's three highest offensive box plus-minus scores, but the Suns have been a statistical disaster in the time he spends on the floor without Bledsoe.
Lawson has a quasi-expiring contract Phoenix should be happy to absorb. His $13.2 million salary in 2016-17 is non-guaranteed, and he's a (formerly) legitimate point guard who can run the offense with Bledsoe on the shelf and Knight gone.
Jones and McDaniels provide the Suns with an additional two prospects to evaluate. The former is a stretchy big who, at his peak, can protect the rim; the latter's a rangy wing who is an improved jumper away from premier three-and-D status.
So long as Knight's groin injury isn't deemed serious, the Rockets have ample motivation to pull the trigger. Lawson hasn't worked out beside James Harden, and Jones is streaking toward a big payday in restricted free agency.
Knight is a better off-ball shooter than Lawson, a playmaking upgrade over Patrick Beverley and, along with Morris, infuses more talent into a Rockets core that is just a couple of losses away from falling out of the West's playoff picture.
Step 2: Investing in Potential Frontcourt Cornerstone
Denver Nuggets Receive: SG Archie Goodwin, PF Mirza Teletovic and 2016 second-round pick
Phoenix Suns Receive: PF Darrell Arthur and C Joffrey Lauvergne
Disclaimer: This might be a tough sell to Denver.
Lauvergne is a floor-spacing big with some serious defensive potential. But the Nuggets don't have a need for him, Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic. Two of them will need to go in due time.
Goodwin is a first-round talent and poses an intriguing fit with Will Barton at the 2 and 3 slots. He can even soak up time as the primary ball-handler behind rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay.
Teletovic is drilling more than 40 percent of his long-range attempts this season and would be a nice drive-and-kick assassin for Denver's wings. His contract comes off the books this summer, at which point the Nuggets can make a decision on his future.
That second-round pick is not to be discounted. The Nuggets don't own a second-round pick until 2018—and it's not even their own.
Getting Lauvergne would be a huge boon for the Suns' rebuild. Leuer is their most promising two-way stretch big, and that's not saying much. Lauvergne can complement Len better than Chandler and, at only 24, joins DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Love and Jokic as the only qualified bigs who have buried at least 10 treys and are clearing 15 points, 10 rebounds and two assists per 36 minutes.
Losing Goodwin stings, but with Bledsoe, Booker and Warren still on the roster, Phoenix doesn't want for perimeter talent.
Step 3: Buying Low on Another Young Gun
Phoenix Suns Receive: SF Caron Butler and SG Ben McLemore
Sacramento Kings Receive: PF Jon Leuer and SF P.J. Tucker
Grabbing McLemore does not undermine Booker's development.
The No. 7 pick from 2013 is trying to stave off the dreaded "bust" label. Though his three-point rate has climbed through each of his first three seasons, his defense is underwhelming, and he has never posted a player efficiency rating better than 10.5. He ranks as a buy-low acquisition for Phoenix—a plug-and-play piece who soaks up any available minutes following Goodwin's and Tucker's departures.
Deadly shooting from Omri Casspi (44.1 percent from three) and Seth Curry (41.4 percent) lets the Kings cut bait with McLemore. Tucker is a solid backup wing and offers cheap insurance should Sacramento decide to ship out Rudy Gay—a distinct possibility, per Stein.
Adding Leuer permits Kings head coach George Karl to deploy even more offensively tantalizing lineups. DeMarcus Cousins and Leuer would bend defenses with their shooting, or the latter can dot the three-point line as Willie Cauley-Stein spearheads all the pick-and-rolls.
And with the Kings a stone's throw from the West's playoff bracket, the prospect of landing two impact players is one they cannot rebuff without serious consideration.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com and are accurate leading into games on Feb. 1 unless otherwise cited. Salary information via Basketball Insiders. Draft pick commitments from RealGM.
Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @danfavale.