Phil Jackson has never really been sold on Jeff Hornacek as his head coach. That was painfully obvious from the beginning.
And the events of the past few weeks, including Jackson commandeering a practice last Thursday as well as the Knicks embarrassing performance against the bottom feeding Brooklyn Nets on Sunday, raises the question to whether Jackson will be looking for a new head coach this summer if he doesn’t see progress over the final 15 games.
On the surface it may be hard to envision Jackson pulling the plug after one season and kicking Hornacek to the curb. And it may be harder still to believe James Dolan would give Jackson authorization to hire a fourth head coach in three years. (Jackson inherited Mike Woodson and then fired him.) But during last month’s publicity tour in the wake of the Charles Oakley scandal, Dolan, the Chairman of Madison Square Garden, made it clear that he is happy with Jackson’s job performance and that Jackson has his unwavering support.
It was a stunning public endorsement considering the Knicks awful record under Jackson’s stewardship. But always remember one thing when it comes to trying to figure out what the Knicks are thinking; remove all logic and reason from your thoughts. That’s a good jumping off point.
It’s also worth remembering that Jackson had no previous history with Hornacek, other than beating Hornacek and the Utah Jazz in 1997 and 1998 for the last of the Chicago Bulls six NBA championships under Jackson. More importantly, Hornacek had little history with Phil’s prized possession; the triangle offense.
Sure, Hornacek played in a system in Phoenix that ran — stop me if you’ve heard this before — “aspects of the triangle.” Great. Hornacek was so enamored with the triangle offense that he didn’t run it as a head coach of the Suns, choosing instead to run a player friendly, modern NBA, guard dominated offense.
With Jackson not interested in many top available coaching candidates, including Tom Thibodeau, and with Luke Walton showing zero interest in the Knicks job, Jackson hired Hornacek, who had no other head coaching offers.
The Knicks spun it as if it were the perfect marriage but few were buying it. Jackson trusted Hornacek so much that he insisted/encouraged/suggested that Kurt Rambis remain on staff. It’s highly unusual for an incoming head coach to retain his predecessor, who had been named interim head coach in January and wanted desperately to keep the job.
No one could have possibly thought this arrangement would work. The players, who had soured on Rambis during his three month trial, certainly weren’t in favor of the move.
So right from the start Hornacek lost credibility in the locker room. His standing were further compromised two weeks into the season when Jackson named Rambis defensive coach.
Despite a quick start — the Knicks were the third best team in the Eastern Conference in early December — reality eventually set in. They’ve imploded since that Christmas Day loss to Boston. Derrick Rose went AWOL and Joakim Noah got hurt while Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis have been mentally beaten down.
What Anthony and Porzingis said about the state of the Knicks on back to back days over the weekend was telling. Both players have questions about the coach, the offense, Jackson and the direction of the franchise.
One player said that Anthony was so distraught following Wednesday’s loss in Milwaukee that he headed directly for the shower after the game and was cooling down as Hornacek addressed the team in the post-game locker room. By Sunday, Porzingis described the Knicks as being a bundle of confusion.
When the team’s two best players are lashing out in that manner it is proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that the coach is losing the team.
Maybe Jackson knows that and simply doesn’t care. Following the All-Star break he instructed Hornacek to re-commit to the triangle, which surprised the players. Then on Thursday, Jackson ran a triangle clinic for certain Knicks, including Courtney Lee and Rose but not for Porzingis and Anthony.
Can Jackson, a Hall of Fame coach, honestly believe he’s not undermining the authority of his head coach by running a practice? Or does Jackson already see this season as a lost cause and is trying to salvage anything he can even at the expense of hurting Hornacek?
The word around the league is that Jackson believes he built a solid roster that has simply under-performed. That is an indictment of the coach.
Maybe Jackson’s plan is to be more hands-on knowing that Hornacek will not stand in his way. Under this arrangement Phil’s coaching the team without being on the bench. And it would be a recipe for an even bigger disaster.
With the Pacers in town on Tuesday, the Knicks are one loss away from clinching a fourth straight losing season. That’s all on Jackson’s resume along with all the players he’s acquired and sent away and the head coaches he’s fired.
What’s one more coach? Crazy, right.
But this is the Knicks. Logic and reason don’t live there.
Published at Tue, 14 Mar 2017 03:28:29 +0000