Knicks fans are happy — they were clearly in the “anyone but Kurt Rambis” camp.
Knicks players are mostly happy — the majority of them, including Carmelo Anthony, didn’t love the triangle offense.
However, the fact that Jeff Hornacek is the guy the Knicks have reportedly settled on to be their next head coach raises a lot of questions.
Chief among them: What changed Knicks’ president Phil Jackson’s mind about the triangle and hiring within his coaching tree?
Back in April, Jackson was adamant the triangle offense was staying — he and Kurt Rambis even ran a clinic on the offense for the 10 or so Knicks players who showed up. Here was Jackson’s quote about the search at the time:
“Only people I probably know will be in the interview process. I will reach out to make connections to some people. But I’ve been in this position, in the NBA over 50 years, and I’ve seen a lot of situations where coaches end up coming in without simpatico with the general manager and those things don’t work well.”
Jackson clearly wanted his good friend Rambis to get the job. He campaigned for it, and the buzz around the league was that the other people he spoke with — Frank Vogel, Nate McMillan, etc. — were simply pawns so Jackson could say he did a thorough search. The one exception was Luke Walton, but after having a front-row seat for Stephen Curry and the small-ball revolution, he didn’t want to come to New York and run the triangle. So it was Rambis.
Until it wasn’t.
Hornacek ran a few triangle sets and had some triangle principles in his offense in Phoenix (the majority of NBA teams do), but his was an up-tempo offense where the ball was dominated by the team’s quality point guards. Jeff Van Gundy said on SiriusXM NBA Radio he heard Hornacek would not be forced to run the triangle, he could run an offense that suits the Knicks personnel. Likely this will mean a faster pace and some Kristaps Porzingis at the five.
What changed in Phil Jackson? Or, more likely, was he told to change? Frank Isola speculated about this at the New York Daily News.
There was a sense that Garden chairman James Dolan would not sign off on a coach with a 65-164 record (Rambis). Whether it ever came to that is unclear. But Jackson was also well aware that Rambis was hardly the choice of the people and the players. According to a source, several Knicks expressed concerns over Rambis’ coaching style in the weeks after Rambis was hired to replace Derek Fisher.
Jackson was brought in and paid handsomely in part to keep Dolan out of basketball decisions. Which is a good thing. But if Dolan was the firewall that prevented Rambis from getting the job and the triangle from staying, then Knicks fans owe him a big thank you. The owner who should mostly stay out of basketball operations stepped in at the right time.
This is a big summer for Jackson and his plans in New York — he’s been up and down in the big chair, having nailed the Porzingis draft pick last summer, plus he made a few solid free-agent signings. Now he needs to build on that. The rebuild needs to take its next step forward, and that means getting more talent on the roster (and the Knicks first-round draft pick, the seventh overall, goes to Denver this year, from a deal Jackson inherited). He needs to convince guys to come to New York in what will be a loud and crowded free agent marketplace where nearly every team has money to burn. More than just getting guys, he needs to get quality players that fit with how Hornacek wants to play — that starts with getting a quality pick-and-roll point guard.
This is the summer where we start to see exactly how good an executive Jackson will be.
The fact he didn’t get the guy he wanted as coach makes “how good is he?” a very valid question.