MIAMI — Jeff Hornacek’s future as Knicks coach may be uncertain, but he made clear what direction the team needs to go to upgrade the roster: Get a true small forward.
The roster imbalance and duplication at spots created challenges for Hornacek. The Knicks have played natural shooting guards Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee at small forward most of the year, and gave up size and strength many nights. Hornacek believes the Knicks need to address the small forward position to keep up with the rest of the NBA.
“I think if you look around at the top teams that are in the league they have multiple guys that are in the 6-7, 6-8 range with length,” Hornacek said before the Knicks played Miami on Wednesday night. “We had a lot of guys that are in the 6-5ish range. Just to get bigger at some of those spots and just continue to work on the chemistry.”
Hornacek continues to speak as if he will return next season. He has one year remaining on his contract, but the Knicks are careening toward a fourth straight 50-loss season. This would be the second under Hornacek.
Miami trounced the Knicks, 119-98, Wednesday night ending their two-game winning streak. Enes Kanter had 23 points and 13 rebounds and Michael Beasley 22 points for the Knicks (26-46).
Goran Dragic and Kelly Olynyk each scored 22 for the Heat (39-33).
There have been extenuating circumstances.
Last season, former team president Phil Jackson made Hornacek run the triangle, an offense he never coached. This year was considered a rebuilding season with the roster Hornacek was given. Then injuries to key players Kristaps Porzingis and Hardaway derailed the season.
Those factors likely will be considered when team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry evaluate Hornacek. But Perry might look to bring in his own guy. Potential candidates are Mark Jackson, David Fizdale, Jerry Stackhouse, David Blatt and Doc Rivers, if he’s not back with the Clippers.
Hornacek’s point is well taken, though. The Knicks need an athletic wing and longer, versatile players who can switch defensively and guard multiple positions.
They could try to get one in the draft — Villanova’s Mikal Bridges, a 6-7 wing player, could be one of the Knicks’ targets depending on where they pick. Acquiring one in a trade or free agency are other options. But the Knicks don’t want to add too much salary and impact their flexibility in the 2019 free-agency market.
The Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony and brought back a center (Kanter) and a shooter (Doug McDermott). They opened the season with four centers, four point guards and played small forward by committee with Hardaway and Lee — both under contract for next season — getting the bulk of the minutes.
“I don’t know if I was necessarily concerned, because those two guys were able to do it,” Hornacek said. “It’s not like Scott came in and said, ‘Hey this is our roster, we should win a championship.’ The understanding [was] let’s play who we have and the talent and trying to use it as best we can. As years go on you fill in different spots and just go that route.”
Hardaway said switching to small forward was a big adjustment. Lance Thomas and Michael Beasley also have played small forward. But the Knicks converted Beasley to power forward to back up Porzingis, which was new to him as well.
“I haven’t played the three ever,” Hardaway said. “You’re just going against strong guys. You’re going against LeBron [James]. You’re going against [Kevin Durant]. Those are very hard matchups for a guy who is 6-6. So it’s a learning experience.”
Now there is even more duplication at the wing since the Knicks have been trying to convert rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina into an off-guard.
“That creates a bigger jam,” Hornacek said. “We talk about that guy, that 6-7, 6-8 guy. But every team in the league wants those guys. You don’t see those guys all over the place. With Frank able to move to the two, that creates some problems there but it also gives us different options to play two guards together sometimes.”