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Steve Mills, Scott Perry emphasize patience as Knicks search for new head coach

Knicks president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry

Knicks president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry answer questions from the media at the Knicks training facility in Tarrytown on Thursday. Photo Credit: Errol Anderson

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry plan to begin “a very open” coaching search and are looking for someone who is tough, defensive-minded and relates well to today’s NBA players.

Jeff Hornacek apparently fell short in those areas, as well as several others. That led to Hornacek’s dismissal in a Westchester airport conference room early Thursday morning after the team landed following its season-ending game in Cleveland.

“We thought the timing was right to get a new voice, a new presence in the locker room to help lead our vision for this team moving forward,” Perry said. “We’re in the early stage of the building process for this organization. The timing was right for this.”

The Knicks’ two lead executives detailed how the team was lacking under Hornacek. The areas included communicating with players, situational basketball, adjustments, execution on both ends and holding players accountable.

Hornacek was let go after a 29-53 finish. He went 60-104 in his two years as coach.

“I think just as we observed the team, there were a lot of things that we just thought we would be better at, from attention to detail to player accountability,” Mills said. “Jeff did a good job in some areas. In some areas he could have done a bit of a better job.

“We just thought there was an opportunity to get someone who really fit where we want to be three to five years from now.”

The buzzword throughout the 45-minute news conference was “patience.” Mills and Perry used a form of that word 11 times, asking fans to be “patient” or saying this rebuild requires “patience,” which is something they plan to have with whomever they name as Hornacek’s successor.

Perry said there is no timetable on naming a coach, who will be Kristaps Porzingis’ fourth even though he has been a Knick for only three seasons. Among the possible candidates are Mark Jackson, David Fizdale, Jerry Stackhouse, Doc Rivers, David Blatt, Chauncey Billups, Monty Williams, Jason Kidd and Jay Wright, who led Villanova to the national championship earlier this month.

A source said Wright would listen if the Knicks contacted him, but the source didn’t know if Wright would leave Villanova for New York. Another source said Wright has not been contacted by the Knicks and that it would take something “astronomical” — and not only in terms of money — for Wright to leave Villanova.

A spokesman at Villanova had no comment on the Knicks’ reported interest in Wright.

“We’re going to be looking for a coach who holds the players accountable and his coaching staff accountable,” Perry said. “Not only a good basketball mind but a very skilled communicator. A guy who can connect very well with his players and is equally aligned with wanting to be a very strong defensive-minded team.”

Mills said, “It has to be someone that understands today’s player, and today’s player is very different than yesterday’s player. You have to be a person that understands who these guys are, where they come from, what their basketball journey is. Understand the complexity of today’s NBA game, from an analytics standpoint, from a physical development standpoint, from a player development standpoint. A good coach is willing to embrace all those things.”

Hornacek had one year remaining on his contract. Mills said that when he was told of his dismissal at the airport, it didn’t come as “a complete shock.” Associate head coach Kurt Rambis also was fired, via telephone.

Perry said the process of finding a new coach will begin very soon and that some people already have called about the vacancy.

The timetable for Porzingis’ return from a torn ACL is unclear. The Knicks will have a lottery pick in June’s draft and have plenty of holes to fill. The plan is to free cap room to use on a loaded free-agent market in the summer of 2019, so next season could shape up to be another dismal one. But Mills and Perry say they’re sticking to the plan.

“When you talk about building a successful team that is sustainable, patience is required,” Perry said. “You don’t skip steps. There’s a lot that goes into building a successful basketball team in the NBA. There are no quick fixes. That has been tried a number of times here in the past. I think it’s important to remain disciplined.’’

Mills added, “Unlike in the past when you’re constantly trying to hit home runs and striking out, this is an opportunity for us to build something from the ground up and is sustainable in terms of winning.’’

With Steven Marcus

New York Sports