CLEVELAND — Jeff Hornacek hopes to be able to finish what he started and follow through with the plan that he and Knicks president Steve Mills put together after Phil Jackson was fired last summer.
But Hornacek could have coached his final game for the Knicks in Wednesday’s 110-98 season-ending victory over the Cavaliers, who didn’t play LeBron James for the final 37:27.
Hornacek said he assumes he will meet with Mills and general manager Scott Perry Thursday to discuss his future. In stating his case to return Wednesday, Hornacek said there needs to be “patience,” that rebuilds take time and he has helped put the Knicks on the right path.
“We started it and we’d like to continue it, continue with this team to grow,” Hornacek said leaning against a wall outside the visiting locker room. “It’s very satisfying for coaches to take a team and build it and grow it. You can look around the league at some of the teams that are now some of the better teams in the league. They went through those same type of things.
“Sometimes people are wanting things to happen right away. But sometimes there’s patience. That’s what we’re looking for.”
The Knicks ended the season with a 29-53 record and missed the postseason for the fifth straight year. But by winning their final game, they finished with the NBA’s ninth-worst record. Had they lost, they would have been tied with the Nets for eighth. The Knicks have a 6.1 percent chance of picking in the top three and 93.9 percent odds of picking ninth, 10th or 11th.
Hornacek, who has gone 60-104 in two years as Knicks coach, has one year left on his contract. The silence from Mills and Perry regarding Hornacek’s future has been deafening. The two made the trip to Cleveland and exchanged pleasantries with reporters, but they haven’t taken on-the-record questions in months.
There have been no contract extension talks between management and Hornacek. It’s rare if not unheard of for an NBA coach to return with only one year left on his deal. But Hornacek said he would be willing.
“That’s why you sign contracts,” Hornacek said. “I have one more year. We’d love to continue with these guys and get some of the guys healthy and get back at it and continue that process. We didn’t think it was going to be a one-year turnaround. That’s our thoughts. That’s what we’ll continue to look at.
“We’re still the coaches Until something’s different that’s how we’re treating it.”
The Knicks will conduct their usual end-of-season exit meetings beginning on Thursday, and Hornacek said he expects to be a part of them along with Mills and Perry.
“I plan on it,” he said. “No one told me no, so?”
Hornacek isn’t sure if he will be in the same room as Mills and Perry or if he will sit with the players alone. Hornacek said he’s done it both ways in his career.
The rumored candidates if Hornacek is fired include Mark Jackson, David Fizdale, Doc Rivers, Jerry Stackhouse, David Blatt, Jason Kidd, Chauncey Billups, Monty Williams, Mike Brown and Stephen Silas.
The popular narrative has been that Perry, who was brought in last July, didn’t hire Hornacek and will want to bring in his own guy. That’s normally how it works.
But Mills was with Jackson during the dinner and interviews with Hornacek and he obviously signed off on the hire. Mills and Hornacek worked closely over the past two years, particularly in devising this rebuilding plan that they presented to MSG chairman James Dolan.
“Steve, before Scott was hired, there was this plan we talked to Mr. Dolan on and how it could be a few-years process and what we needed to try to grow,” Hornacek said. “We’ve been trying to do that. Scott and Steve have been great all year. they’re on all the trips all year and practices every day. It’s great to have those guys there every day.’’
Hornacek never has been a self-promoter. But he faced major challenges in his two years on the job and did everything asked of him.
Jackson made him run the triangle offense last season, and he wasn’t given a roster ready to win this season. Then injuries to Tim Hardaway Jr. and Kristaps Porzingis showed how limited the roster was.
The Knicks started 17-14 and have gone 12-39 since. Giving minutes to and developing the young players became the plan to start to build for the future. Now Hornacek’s future is in doubt.
“You can’t expect a rebuilding situation and you go out there and win 50 games,” Hornacek said. “That’s why they call it rebuilding. But when you mention rebuilding you’re still trying to win games. Do the little things, teach these guys. I think the guys have done a great job of sticking together continuing to play.
“It may not set you up for this year but you lay the foundation and continue to work at it. At some point it’s going to blossom. That’s the hope you keep working at it and all of a sudden it pops.”
Hornacek said he would like to now his fate right way.
“I think all of the assistant coaches are like that too,” he said. “We all have a year left on the contract. So until someone says no, it’s just business as usual.”