The Knicks announced the hiring of Jeff Hornacek on Thursday morning with a “Welcome” tweet from the team’s Twitter account. He will be introduced as the Knicks’ new coach at a news conference Friday.
The Knicks targeted Hornacek to replace Kurt Rambis and offered him the job two weeks ago. Negotiations concluded this week and he agreed on a deal that reportedly is for three years and $15 million.
Hornacek, 53, is the Knicks’ fourth coach in three years and third that team president Phil Jackson has hired since taking over in March 2014. Jackson is entrusting Hornacek to end the Knicks’ three-year playoff drought. The team is 49-115 under Jackson’s watch.
“Jeff has a tremendous basketball acumen and possesses strong leadership skills,” Jackson said in a statement. “During his career as both a player and coach, he has demonstrated the ability to elevate the game.”
Jackson went outside of his circle of trust by choosing Hornacek, someone who doesn’t run the triangle offense. It was a surprise because the former Suns coach has no direct ties to Jackson.
At his end-of-season news conference in April, Jackson said he would interview “only people I probably know,” adding that he wanted “someone who has compatibility with what I do as a leader and would have to be in sync with what we do.”
Jackson interviewed former Cavs coach David Blatt, former Pacers coach Frank Vogel and Warriors assistant Luke Walton, who took the Lakers’ coaching job.
It was widely believed that Rambis would be given the job on a full-time basis, especially after he and Jackson ran a two-day triangle seminar/minicamp for Knicks players a week after the season ended. They’re also close friends.
Jackson went a different route and picked Hornacek, a former shooting guard whom Jackson liked as a player. It remains possible that Rambis will stay on with the Knicks in some capacity. Jackson will address it at Friday’s news conference.
“I am extremely excited and honored to be the next coach of such a historic franchise,” Hornacek said in a statement. “I look forward to working with Phil — a coach and teacher of the game I have admired for many years — and collaborating with him and our staff to take this team to the level that Knicks fans expect.”
Hornacek has played and coached under Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan in Utah. Hornacek’s first NBA coach in Phoenix was Cotton Fitzsimmons, who ran some principles of the triangle.
Fitzsimmons was an assistant under triangle guru Tex Winter at Kansas State. Winter went on to become Jackson’s assistant with the Bulls and Lakers and is a huge influence on how he believes the game should be played.
Although Hornacek has familiarity with the triangle, he didn’t run it while with the Suns. It’s led to speculation that the Knicks might scrap the system. But Jackson has an affinity for the triangle and has spent much time talking about it and trying to instill it in the Knicks.
Hornacek was 101-112 in parts of three seasons with the Suns. His greatest success came his first year when the Suns went 48-34, a 23-game improvement from the previous season. Hornacek used a two-point guard system with Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic and finished second in the Coach of the Year voting.
The Suns often played small. They attacked teams in transition and early in the shot clock, utilizing drive-and-kicks, and were a high-volume three-point shooting team. They averaged 105.2 points and were eighth in offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) in Hornacek’s first season. They were 11th the following season, again playing small and quick.
The Knicks’ current personnel doesn’t fit that style, which is much different from the triangle. The Knicks usually played big and were more half-court-oriented.
In the two seasons they utilized the triangle under Derek Fisher and Rambis, the Knicks averaged 91.9 points in 2014-15 (last in the league in offensive rating) and 98.4 points this past season (27th).
Hornacek could go back to Sloan’s bread-and-butter of pick-and-roll that made John Stockton and Karl Malone all-time great players. Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis and Jerian Grant would benefit from that style. Porzingis and Grant could thrive in the pick-and-roll game.
Things turned quickly for Hornacek in Phoenix because of some questionable personnel decisions, injuries and turmoil. He went 39-43 his second season and was fired Feb. 1 this year with the Suns at 14-35.
The former Iowa State guard was drafted in the second round by the Suns in 1986. He made one All-Star team and was a key player on the Utah Jazz’s back-to-back NBA Finals teams in 1997 and 1998. They lost both series to Jackson’s Bulls.
Jackson hasn’t reached the playoffs as an executive and Hornacek hasn’t done it as a coach. Now the two are on the same side and after the same thing.
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