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Knicks fire Jeff Hornacek, made scapegoat for ineptitude

Hornacek was dismissed as head coach Thursday morning even though he didn't have much to work with over the last two years.
Jeff Hornacek. (Photo: Getty Images)

New York Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek wasn't given much of a chance to succeed with one of the NBA's most recognizable franchises. Regardless, he was fired by the organization early Thursday morning, just hours after their season-ending 110-98 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“Jeff is a true professional who has worked tirelessly for this organization the last two seasons," president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry said in a statement Thursday morning. "We sincerely appreciate his efforts and considerable contributions to the team and wish him well in his future endeavors.”

Assistant coach Kurt Rambis was also fired.

Taking over for the 2016-17 season, Hornacek was devoid of many talents to make a serious push for the postseason. He was reliant on the aging Carmelo Anthony, who has been a stranger to winning for most of his 15 NBA seasons, and a budding superstar in Kristaps Porzingis. 

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While those two alone could have made some noise in the weaker Eastern Conference, former team president Phil Jackson's ideologies eliminated any chance of that. Hornacek was forced to run the dreaded triangle offense for most of the year, his team never looking comfortable as they sputtered to a 31-51 record. 

Then came a tumultuous offseason in which Carmelo Anthony's future with the team led to the dismissal of Jackson. It wasn't before he almost traded away Porzingis, but settled on spending the team's No. 8 pick in the 2017 draft on French point guard Frank Ntilikina, a sizeable work in progress that was inherited by new president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry. 

The new regime's first move was a questionable one, signing Tim Hardaway Jr. to a four-year, $71 million deal after spending the prior two seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, the team the Knicks traded him to following the 2014-15 campaign. 

For a player who never averaged more than 14.5 points per game, it was a big ask for the 26-year-old to come in and make fans forget about Anthony, who was dealt just before the start of the regular season to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott.

The moves made Porzingis the face of the franchise and he played like it to start the season, averaging 27.3 points in his first 17 games while the Knicks managed to post a 17-14 record through their first 31 games. 

But Porzingis admitted that fatigue was setting in while carrying a team that hit the proverbial wall in late December, losing 16 of its next 23 games. Then the worst-case scenario happened when Porzingis went down with a season-ending ACL injury in early February, ending his and the Knicks season. 

Hornacek had no one else to rely on despite Hardaway averaging a career-high 17.5 points. Yet his decision making and basketball IQ has proved worrisome even though he spent a lot of time this season playing at the small forward position, proving to be a difficult transition for the natural shooting guard.

Ntilikina showed that he has to put in a lot more work before becoming a serviceable point guard, especially on the offensive end as his progression seemingly did not sit well with Mills and Perry. At the trade deadline, they dealt McDermott in a three-team transaction to the Dallas Mavericks while getting point guard Emmanuel Mudiay in return from Denver. 

The former Nuggets lottery pick joined an already-crowded backcourt that featured Ntilikina, Jarrett Jack and Trey Burke, a rare bright spot down the stretch after being called up from the G-League in January. 

It forced Hornacek to shuffle his lineup, moving Ntilikina to the 2, sitting Jack and splitting starts between Mudiay and Burke as the Knicks continued to plummet to the bottom of the Eastern Conference Standings. 

At the end of the day, it's just another disappointing Knicks season, a fifth-straight that will finish without a postseason appearance. However, Hornacek is responsible for some surprisingly good things. 

His team is shooting 46.3-percent from the field, its highest mark since the 1996-97 season. They also have dished out 1,882 assists, the most since 1994-95.

It's all about the win column, though. With a 60-104 record that is difficult to pin all on him, Hornacek is now out as the Knicks prepare for another offseason that requires dramatic changes.