Since the 1980s, a lot has changed in Phoenix. The city has grown from small desert town to thriving metropolis. Houses, buildings and new forms of transportation have all sprung up from the dry, rocky and mountainous terrain like Carly Rae Jepsen’s career, completely out of nowhere.
Like they say, though, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Despite Phoenix’s growth, you can still count on scorching temperatures that turn your seat belt into a branding iron in the summer, snowbirds that turn the roadways into a parking lot in the winter and people freaking out more than the double-rainbow guy any time it rains.
The same can be said for the Phoenix Suns. A lot has changed since the late ‘80s. The Purple Palace rose from the ashes of an area downtown usually reserved for the kind of people you’d see in an episode of Law and Order to replace the Madhouse on McDowell. The players, uniforms and logos have all changed and the franchise has gone from fighting for its existence to one of exemplary teams in the league.
Things are different than the ‘80s, that is for sure — most notably the shorts leave plenty to the imagination now — but there are also a lot of things that have remained consistent in the Valley of the Suns. Purple and orange are still the primary colors, point guards are still the focal point of the team, names like Jeff Hornacek, Mark West and Kenny Gattison are still part of the organization, and the offense is still predicated on out-running the competition.
In the ‘80s there was the Cotton Express (something Hornacek and West were part of), in the ‘90s there was the Purple Gang from Phoenix, in the 2000s there was “seven seconds or less” and now it’s time for a new generation of Suns offense to take hold.
Hornacek learned under the tutelage of his former coach and friend Cotton Fitzsimmons, and it has shown in Summer League. Cotton would be proud of the way his former guard has run his offense, fast and free.
“The guys were free flowing and passing to each other,” Hornacek said of his Summer League offense. “Hopefully we get to a point where they can do that for all four quarters, where they’re just creating something for somebody else.
“It’s when guys start thinking ‘how am I going to score?’ is usually when you don’t score. If you’re thinking about how you can get a teammate a shot, it’s all going to come around to you eventually because a teammate is going to pass it to you. That’s the kind of team ball we’re looking for.”
That team ball is another one of those things that hasn’t changed since the ‘80s for your Suns. While Hornacek’s mentor, Fitzsimmons’ offense was known by the old west imagery of a locomotive speeding through the desert, the new-age version of the offense needs to be known by a more modern moniker.
Like the many freeways that have sprouted up around town since the Madhouse days, the newest Suns coach’s offense has no red lights and you’re free to go almost as fast as you want. It seems only fitting that this offense is known as the Hornacek Highway, a tip of the hat to Cotton’s past with an eye to the future.
It’s not just fans that enjoy the new-look offense though, the players on the Summer League roster love it, too.
“I think it fits me perfect,” said rookie Archie Goodwin. “I’m able to run the floor. I’ll run it every time. It plays into the way I play. I like to get up and down. It plays into my favor.”
And it’s paid off in Las Vegas. The Summer Suns are the only team to score over a 100 points more than once and had the highest point-per-game average of any team. They are also one of the final two teams standing with a perfect record of 6-0.
A lot has changed since the 1980s in the city and for the franchise, but if we’re lucky, the Hornacek Highway will lead everyone involved back to the same success the Cotton Express carried the franchise to. If Las Vegas Summer League is any indication, things are heading in the right direction.