The Knicks finished their disappointing campaign with questions abound, but none more than who would lead the team on the sidelines.
The situation seems to have been rectified as multiple reports state that Jeff Hornacek will be the next head coach. Hornacek will replace interim head coach Kurt Rambis.
A former Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves head coach, Rambis took the Knicks reigns last season following the firing of Derek Fisher. He amassed a 9-19 mark in New York, making his career coaching record a disastrous 65-164. It was thought that Rambis would receive serious consideration for removing the interim tag, as team president Phil Jackson publicly stated he wanted the next coach to be “comfortable” running his beloved Triangle offense. But with the hiring of Hornacek, who prefers an up-tempo philosophy, could mean that Jackson will actually relent a bit on his triangular wishes.
Besides, there would’ve also likely been a media, player, fan, and owner mutiny if Jackson had actually selected Rambis over a list of candidates that also included David Blatt and Frank Vogel.
Hornacek, 53, may not be as accomplished as Blatt, who led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals last season, or Vogel, who owned a .580 winning percentage during his six seasons in Indiana, but he’s been lauded for his efforts in Phoenix. The Suns finished with 23 wins last season – 14 of which came with Hornacek, who was fired after just 49 games. He compiled a 101-112 record as the lead man in the desert, and in the unruly Western Conference, that’s considered an achievement.
Despite all of that, pundits may think the hiring is curious. But Jackson has long respected Hornacek as both a coach and player. So while it may seem out of left field for many observers, Jackson tactically plucked the former Utah Jazz assistant coach, who was also a fan favorite from his playing days, from a pool that included some credible candidates.
Recent interviews featured star forward Carmelo Anthony publicly pining for a wider net to be cast in the coaching search. It was, and now it’ll be interesting to see how the All-Star feels about a guy who was run out of Phoenix – despite it not being much fault of his own.
What Anthony will actually see is just how good a job Hornacek did in Phoenix, especially with management gutting the roster over the last couple years and leaving the cupboard dry. Guys like Goran Dragic, who thrived in Miami, and Isaiah Thomas, who became an All-Star in Boston, were swept from the franchise, leaving Hornacek with average talent and malcontents.
Hornacek’s handling of a bad situation may have been what ultimately attracted Jackson to him. And with a Knicks roster similar in dysfunction and ill-fits, perhaps Jackson figured this was the best fit of the lot.
The most promising sign through all of this is that Jackson actually seems like he’s finally thinking outside of his three-cornered box – which in turn could be a boon for the Knicks players and rejuvenate an apathetic fan base. Whether Jackson has found the guy he feels is the best fit for his work-in-progress roster is to be determined, but at least there will be a renewed purpose in the Garden.
Next on the agenda for the Zen Master is to fix the point guard situation, because Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Dragic, and Thomas aren’t walking through those doors – and Hornacek is way past his prime to suit up and play.
- Hornacek’s tenure ended roughly in Phoenix, but he was considered a hot up-and-comer when he piloted the Suns to a 48-34 mark during his maiden campaign in 2013-14. That was considered an overachievement for a squad that wasn’t long on tremendous talent. The coaching was so good that Hornacek was the Coach of the Year runner-up behind Gregg Popovich.
- Jackson’s admiration for Hornacek goes back to the late 1990’s battles in the NBA Finals when Jackson coached the Chicago Bulls teams that beat Hornacek’s Jazz squads in both the 1997 and 1998 Finals.