Like most fans, head coach Jeff Hornacek is hoping to put the 2016-2017 season in a dark corner of the basement. But his improvement this season will be vital to his staying power.
Most coaches entering their second season with a team geared towards a rebuild would not be on the hot seat. Yet, in just one season, Jeff Hornacek had some glaring errors that may give some fans pause when discussing his future with the New York Knicks.
It is no secret that Hornacek clashed with some of his players during last season. The most famous example of this comes from an Ian Begley (ESPN) report, where he cites back and forth argument between Hornacek and Carmelo Anthony during halftime of a game against the Brooklyn Nets.
Begley further explains that “the way things unfolded on that Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn spoke to two glaring issues within the Knicks organization: a chasm between some veteran players and the coaching staff/management and, more importantly, Anthony’s uncertain future with the organization.”
Similarly, reports throughout the season also focused on Hornacek’s relationship with Derrick Rose. In January, Adrian Wojnarski, formerly of Yahoo Sports, wrote “Rose has been increasingly frustrated with how this Knicks season has unfolded, culminating with him privately fuming over his diminished late-game role in Friday night’s victory in Milwaukee, sources said. Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek played undrafted rookie Ron Baker over Rose in the fourth quarter.”
Kristaps Porzingis Reportedly Skipped Exit Meeting After Being Profanely Emasculated By Jeff Hornacek https://t.co/AQEiCJZCmq
— The Big Lead (@thebiglead) August 30, 2017
“According to the report, at one point during the season, Hornacek told Knicks center Willy Hernangomez, who is one of Porzingis’ good friends, to tell Porzingis to ‘stop playing like a pu**y.’”
Adding to the hot seat narrative, Frank Isola of the Daily News writes that Hornacek will be on close watch and that David Blatt, who has Princeton ties with Steve Mills, could be his successor if Hornacek can’t get the job done. “Mills is going to give Hornacek every opportunity to succeed in New York but Mills, who is said to have strong opinions about how the team should be coached, also wants to see results.”
Hornacek’s struggles with veteran players were symbolic of the organization’s confusing direction. Half of the team was composed of players early in their NBA careers and the other half included players ready to win now.
This, combined with the implementation of the triangle offense, led to veteran players resisting Hornacek and helped contribute to a lack of success on the court.
However, with the additions of Frank Ntilikina, Tim Hardaway Jr. and impending exit of Carmelo Anthony, Hornacek will have the young team he wants and will be able to instill his offensive system and defensive principles.
Hornacek has the ingredients to try and replicate some of the success he had with the Phoenix Suns during the 2013-2014 season. Hornacek helped lead that team to 48 wins in a tough Western Conference with a strong back court, including Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe.
That team finished in the top ten in the NBA in three key areas: points per game (105.2), offensive rating (109.5) and pace (95.8).
19-year-old Ntilikina and 25-year-old Hardaway Jr. can certainly improve the Knicks’ ranking in regards to pace. Plus, having younger players on the team and in the starting lineup may lead you to believe that there will be more buy-in and a stronger effort on the defensive end.
Despite this, young players always make “young” mistakes, and Hornacek will have to spend a lot of time teaching this team how to win and how to learn from their errors. Additionally, if Hornacek is to have any success, he will have to create and/or sustain strong relationships with his players, especially when things are not going well.
If not, then the hot seat may be his last seat as head coach in New York.