CLEVELAND — Knicks president Steve Mills said this season is more about making progress than getting wins, and that he supports Jeff Hornacek and his coaching decisions.
Mills said speculation that Hornacek’s job could be in jeopardy was “speculation not on our part but from the outside world.” Mills said he’s trying to build “stability” and that he, general manager Scott Perry and Hornacek are following the plan they put in place.
“Stability is important and we’ve preached it to our players, we’ve communicated to our fans,” Mills said Sunday. “Jeff, Scott and I are in this together, and we want to make sure we’re growing as a team and we’re doing the things that we said we were going to do over the summer.
“As long as we’re doing those things, we’ll continue to build this group. Because stability is important in this league. And we haven’t had a lot of it.”
Mills can’t talk about trade rumors, but when asked about rookie Frank Ntilikina, whose name has come up in trade rumors involving unhappy Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe, he said, “We are committed to him and his development.”
The Roosevelt native also has no problem with Hornacek not having cornerstone player Willy Hernangomez in the current rotation. Mills believes it will make Hernangomez work harder.
“We’re not dictating who plays,” he said. “We don’t tell Jeff who to play. Jeff understands our strategy as a whole and wants these guys to develop. At the end of the day, we tell the players and we tell Jeff that you got to earn your minutes. Billy [Hernangomez] understands that and Billy’s done a really good job over the last week understanding what he has to do. He’s definitely stepped it up in practice.
“This is part of Billy’s development. He’s a guy that’s going to be with us for the next three years. We got a lot of time to work with him, and he’s going to be a part of who we are.”
After Phil Jackson was fired, Mills said he and Hornacek went to Knicks principal owner James Dolan and told him how they wanted to build the team. They “tweaked it” after Perry was hired. But Mills said it was “the three of us deciding how we’re going to move forward.”
The Knicks lost their first three games, leading to speculation about Hornacek’s job security. They played much better Friday and beat the Nets for their first win.
They played together defensively and took care of the ball, and Mills wants to see more performances like that. “We just want to see progress,” he said. “We want to try to win as many games as we can. We want the guys to play hard every night. The three of us, we’re all on the same page as it relates to that. We just want to see the team move in a positive direction.”
Part of the speculation stems from the fact that neither Mills nor Perry hired Hornacek, but the coach appreciates the support he’s gotten from the new regime.
“This is a new year for the whole group, so it’s like year one,” Hornacek said. “We’re trying to lay a foundation with these guys to play a certain way. They’ve been very supportive of what we’re trying to do. They’re not saying you’ve got to play this guy or play that guy. The whole thing is: Who’s going to play hard? If they’re not, then take them out and play the next guy.”
In recent years, the Knicks have been the butt of jokes, and recently Fox Sports 1 had a subway ad campaign with “HOPELESS” splattered across the side of cars between pictures of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Joakim Noah. The ads were removed the next day, but Mills said he’s tired of the jokes and is trying to change that.
“I’m from New York, I’m a proud guy, I’m a competitive guy. We all are,” Mills said. “We don’t want people thinking of our franchise that way. So our goal is to make sure we’re run like a first-class organization. We hire good people and we do really good things to gain the trust of the fans and the basketball community. That’s what our goal is.”