Rumor: Knicks players still skeptical of Jeff Hornacek after he let Phil Jackson demand triangle

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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.

Adrian Wojnarowski:

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?

Begley:

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.

Knicks’ Obi Toppin out at least 2-3 weeks with knee fracture

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Obi Toppin is a fan favorite and Knicks faithful were hoping to see more of him as the season progresses.

However, they are not going to see any of him for at least the next 2-3 weeks due to a fractured knee, the team announced.

Toppin suffered the injury in New York’s win Wednesday over Atlanta, the same game that saw Dejounte Murray sprain his ankle leading him to be out for a few weeks.

Toppin — the reigning All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk contest champion — is averaging 7.7 points in 25 games off the bench. With him out, coach Tom Thibodeau suggested he could lean more on RJ Barrett, asking him to play up at the four.

Report: Zach LaVine not available for trade from Bulls

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Front offices of potential contenders from Los Angeles to Philadelphia have their eyes on the Chicago Bulls — will the struggling Bulls pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama and the top of the lottery, making them sellers at the trade deadline? Teams have interest in Chicago’s three stars: Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic.

Except just-extended LaVine isn’t currently available, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Wednesday on his network’s pregame show discussing the Knicks.

“The Knicks will be watching Chicago. Is Zach LaVine a player who before the deadline possibly can become available? He certainly isn’t now.”

Chicago is not yet ready to pivot to tanking, so none of its stars are truly available. That said, the Bulls don’t look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even if things do come together where do they stand in the East hierarchy? If the Bulls do become sellers, they aren’t going to tear this team down to the studs, it would likely be trading just one star. Possibly a second if the offer was strong enough.

LaVine — who signed a five-year, $215 million extension this past summer — is the least likely to be available, league sources have told NBC Sports. The expectation is that Vucevic would be the Bull first made available if the Bulls decide to start seriously listening to offers. And that remains an “if.”

That said, front offices around the league have their eyes trained on Chicago.

Dejounte Murray added to growing Hawks injury report, out 2-3 weeks with sprained ankle

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John Collins is out for at least another week with a sprained ankle. DeAndre Hunter has been out with a strained hip flexor.

Now you can add Dejounte Murray to the Hawks’ growing injury report, he is out at least 2-3 weeks with a sprained ankle, Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic report.

The injury happened on a closeout from RJ Barrett of the Knicks.

The Hawks have already had chemistry and fit issues this season, and missing key players for an extended period only exacerbates the problem. Atlanta looked flat getting their doors blown off by the Knicks Wednesday night, 113-89, a game that added to a string where they have lost 5-of-7. Now they will have to find a way to right the ship without their second-best playmaker.

There also is an update on the Hawks’ play-by-play announcer Bob Rathbun.

NBA, WNBA players react to news Brittney Griner coming home

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Brittney Griner is finally coming home.

The WNBA and USA Basketball star has spent 10 months in Russian prisons — including being convicted and sent to a Russian penal colony — for having vape canisters with small amounts of cannabis oil in her luggage as she went through Russian airport security back in February. She became a political pawn in the tensions between the United States and Russia, mostly surrounding Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, and was freed via a prisoner swap announced Thursday.

The basketball world — WNBA players in particular — had worked to keep her name front and not let Griner be forgotten during this ordeal, pushing President Joe Biden and the government to reach a deal. With the news Griner was freed, NBA and WNBA players took to social media to react.

“Brittney has had to endure an unimaginable situation and we’re thrilled that she is on her way home to her family and friends,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “We thank the members of the NBA and WNBA community who never wavered in their efforts to raise awareness of Brittney’s unjust circumstances.”

“We are overwhelmed with relief and gratitude that our sister Brittney Griner is finally coming home,” the NBPA said in a statement. “Her strength and courage throughout this last year have been truly remarkable, as have the efforts of her wife Cherelle, our WNBPA sisters, Terri Jackson and the WNBPA staff, who have been relentless in their call to bring Brittney home. We know this homecoming would not have been possible without their unwavering support and continued work to keep BG always top of mind, and our players are honored to have contributed to those efforts. While this is a celebratory moment for our sisters and us, we must not forget the other political prisoners who remain in dire circumstances all over the world. These individuals must be remembered and fought for every single day as BG was so that they too can have this moment. Welcome home Brittney, we are so happy to have you back! #WeAreBG”