Not having meaningful games during the last couple of weeks and not getting ready for the playoffs is something Jeff Hornacek doesn’t like experiencing.
Hornacek’s teams made the postseason 11 out of his last 12 seasons as an NBA player and reached two NBA Finals. As a coach, he’s 131-163 and failed to make the playoffs in three full seasons. His first year as coach of the Knicks will end Wednesday night at the Garden against the 76ers.
“I’ve been through a lot of seasons, and most of them when I was playing, we were in the playoffs,” Hornacek said. “It’s tough when you’re not in the position to at least battle for it to try and keep the guys playing. But that’s being professional: getting out there and giving it their best effort.
“You try to build. You’re trying not to just end the season and play it out. You try and improve on things and keep working.”
This is where Hornacek and Knicks president Phil Jackson have something in common. They’re learning how difficult it is to be successful in different roles.
Jackson won a record 11 rings as a coach, but during his tenure as the Knicks’ president, his teams have lost at least 50 games in each of his three full seasons in charge. The Knicks are 30-51 this season and 79-166 overall under Jackson. They’ve missed the playoffs all three years under Jackson, and four straight overall.
This was supposed to be the year Jackson’s team reached the postseason and Hornacek coached in the playoffs. Expectations were high after Jackson brought in veterans Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee and Brandon Jennings to complement Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis.
But after a 16-13 start, the Knicks fell and fell hard. They have gone 14-38 since Christmas Day and haven’t won two straight games since Dec. 22. Defense was the Knicks’ biggest issue, but there were plenty of reasons they underachieved.
“It was probably just a combination of things,” Hornacek said. “Those are things we’ll discuss as coaches and management going into next year. In the NBA, it’s hard to win. There are times when things fall into place and other times, for no matter what reason, they don’t. You move on to next year and try and correct that.”
As the finale approaches, it’s likely that of the Knicks’ top six players coming into the season, only Lee and maybe Anthony will be in uniform Wednesday.
Rose had season-ending knee surgery last week. Noah was suspended for violating the terms of the league’s anti-drug policy. Jennings was waived in February. Porzingis has a bad back.
Anthony missed the last two games with what the Knicks called a sore left knee, but it would be hard to foresee him missing what could be his last game in a Knicks uniform. The Knicks are expected to try to trade Anthony this offseason.
The Knicks likely will undergo many changes, as they have each offseason under Jackson. Among the veterans, Anthony, Rose and Kyle O’Quinn could be on new teams. The Knicks will have a lottery pick, two second-round picks and about $20 million for free agency. But that could change with whatever moves they make.
Hornacek said whoever is here next season should prepare to play the triangle offense from the beginning of the season. He acknowledged that not committing to one system from the start was a mistake, but he also believes too much was made of it.
The Knicks started out running the triangle occasionally. Since the All-Star break, they’ve gone all in on it.
“I think the only thing to really look at going into next year is going in with one way we’re going to play and stay with it and not change part-way,” Hornacek said. “It’s not like we changed major things. It really wasn’t that major at all. It shouldn’t have been that big of a deal.
“But from the players’ side, they probably thought it was too big a change. We’ll figure what’s best for us, what everybody wants to do, and try to go from day one and leave it like that.”