Former Knicks president Phil Jackson hired Jeff Hornacek – who had no experience coaching the triangle offense – and forced the scheme on Hornacek at different points to varying degrees.
Players grumbled about Hornacek, as they tend to do on losing teams. Hornacek kept touting the triangle, appeasing his boss.
Now, Jackson is out, and Hornacek remains. The coach is seemingly free to implement the up-tempo system he used to better effect with the Suns.
But Hornacek isn’t exactly working from a blank slate, as Ian Begley of ESPN explained on The Woj Pod.
Was Hornacek compromised in the locker room last year because players thought he was just a puppet of Phil? He was running an offense that they knew he didn’t want to run, that Phil was guiding a lot of his decision-making and that they thought maybe, “Our coach isn’t strong enough to stand up for what he believes in because” – that’s part of Phil hired him and puts him in a difficult position because of what he wants him to do and how he wants him to run things. He doesn’t have to run the triangle anymore. He can run what he wants. Does that give him something in the locker room he didn’t have a year ago?
I’ll say this, Woj: I can’t speak for every player in there last year, but there were guys who shared those opinions the way you just laid it out. Just, because there was so much vacillation throughout the course of the season about, how much are we going to run the triangle? Is Jeff going to be able to open up, which he did early in the season? But then you look at around the All-Star break. They started running more triangle, and it was clearly Phil’s influence. So, players looked at that, and they saw Jeff as not having enough authority to kind of stand up and say, “Hey, Phil, I’m coaching the team. This is how I want to run the offense. This is what I want to do.” I think if Jeff took that approach, he would have won this locker room over. But he didn’t, and I think that hurt him. So, that doesn’t go away – right? – just because Phil is not here. I think that impression, just from the few guys who shared it with me, I think is still there. I think Jeff has to show himself to be his own man this year, and I think every opportunity is there for him to do that. But he’s certainly under a microscope.
Phil was not going to be able to fire Jeff Hornacek last year. There’s no way that Jim Dolan was going to be paying Derek Fisher and Jeff Hornacek to sit at home while he pays another coach to coach the team.
So, Jeff had the juice, right? He had the latitude to kind of put his foot down. And again, I think if he did that, the players would have rallied around him. I think that he could have got the locker room behind him if he took that stance. He didn’t take that stance, and now, again, he’s left in a difficult position where I think he’s under the microscope from a management perspective.
Hornacek doesn’t seem adept at playing politics, which is hardly a bad thing to say about a person. But sometimes it’s part of the job.
Defying his boss would have been far easier said than done. Maybe Jackson couldn’t have fired Hornacek immediately, but every indication was that Jackson would remain in New York for years. Hornacek appeared terribly positioned to challenge Jackson’s authority.
Unfortunately for Hornacek, he can’t escape these games. He’s now working for Steve Mills, who didn’t hire him. Rumors are already swirling about David Blatt becoming the Knicks’ next coach. If Hornacek wanted avoid drama, he shouldn’t have taken a job anywhere near James Dolan or New York.
The best thing Hornacek can do now is coach well, and the removal of Jackson’s triangle meddling should help. If Hornacek’s offense is effective, players will get behind him.
But have you seen this roster? Tactical changes alone won’t produce immediate positive results, and losing tends to get pinned on the coach – especially when players are already apprehensive of him and management didn’t hire him.
Hornacek is fighting an uphill battle now, and he can partially blame Jackson.