New York Knicks team President Phil Jackson had fans worried with talk that interim coach Kurt Rambis could be a long-term option. Star forward Carmelo Anthony was even publicly against the idea of keeping Rambis on board.
As it turns out, either Jackson listened or had a different plan all along.
Hornacek is the Man
Per reports, the Knicks are finalizing an agreement with former Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornaceck, who will replace Rambis and try to get New York back into the playoffs – a place they haven’t been in each of the last two seasons.
Breaking: Knicks will hire Jeff Hornacek as head coach, per NBA source.
— Howard Beck (@HowardBeck) May 18, 2016
New York has endured an ugly but quick rebuild, as Jackson completely dismantled a regressing unit when he came on the job two years ago, and just last year added a key piece to the future in big man, Kristaps Porzingis. With a quality head coach now added to guide the Knicks forward, it seems as though Jackson’s plan could start to provide a clearer vision.
Hornaceck wasn’t the only option, as he beat out Rambis, while reports tied the likes of David Blatt, Frank Vogel and others to the New York job. Hornaceck preaches a ball sharing and up tempo offense, however, something New York could benefit from immensely. He also had solid success with a less than elite cast in his first two years with the Suns, taking a team that should have been a bottom feeder to the brink of the playoffs in each of his first two years.
Hornacek’s crew may have even been better this past season, had Markieff Morris not grown sour after the team traded away his brother and then the roster was hit by numerous injuries to key players. Once star point guard Eric Bledsoe went down, the Suns couldn’t stop losing and the writing was on the wall for Hornacek.
Hornacek’s exit from the desert was more about a bad situation that grew worse at a rapid pace, and less about his ability to coach up a team and star talent. In New York, he has some solid building blocks in Melo and Porzingis, while it’s still up to Jackson to fill out the rest of the roster to give Hornacek a real shot going into the 2016-17 NBA season.
Getting Hornacek is huge and if Jackson wisely allows Hornacek to ditch the Triangle offense and run his own show, the Knicks could really take off. Those are the first two moves, though, and more need to come. For one, the Knicks would do well to land even a moderate free agent this summer, as there are several big names ripe for the plucking.
It’s very unlikely New York can sway someone like Kevin Durant their way, but they could use another quality big man next to Zinger, and that could put the likes of Dwight Howard, Hassan Whiteside or even Pau Gasol on their radar.
Two other areas of concern on New York’s roster are point guard and shooting guard. Jose Calderon has aged rapidly and can no longer defend or consistently create offense. He’s merely a spot-up shooter and needs to be upgraded upon badly. Tony Wroten was signed earlier in the year and could potentially be the answer, but he’s also an erratic performer and could be tough to trust. Jerian Grant is another option, but he’s also quite young and didn’t at all look ready to be a full-time starting point guard as a rookie last year.
With no picks in the 2016 NBA Draft at this point, New York will likely have to either hope Wroten or Grant can ascend or they may have to take a stab at someone in free agency. Mike Conley figures to be the best available point guard, but should see major interest out on the open market. Rajon Rondo is the only other feasible option that wouldn’t for sure be looked at as a stop-gap, but it might be Conley or bust when it comes to free agency.
As for shooting guard, Arron Afflalo fell out of favor with Rambis, but with Hornacek taking over and likely needing/wanting a two-way two guard, he could be safe. He was rather underwhelming last year, though, and it’s possible he could opt out of his deal if he doesn’t like his role going into next year. The Knicks could also decide to trade him to get back into the draft (something they could do with other players, also), where they could then target a young shooter, depending on where they wind up. There is always free agency, too, where DeMar DeRozan will be a high profile gun for hire. Eric Gordon is another interesting option, while Jordan Clarkson and Brad Beal could be worth tendering offers as restricted free agents.
It’s tough to know precisely what the Knicks will do moving forward, but changes are certainly coming.
New York already made serious strides in the past year, as Porzingis ended up being more of an NBA-ready talent and less of a project, Melo can still ball, Lopez can defend down low and New York’s supporting cast really isn’t that bad. However, Afflalo wasn’t great, Melo too often had to force the issue offensively and Jose Calderon just can’t get it done as the main point guard anymore. It’s also arguable the Triangle offense just wasn’t working. Perhaps the Knicks didn’t have the pieces, maybe the coaching wasn’t right – it doesn’t matter – the point is what they were doing wasn’t working and they need to fix it.
Bringing Hornacek in doesn’t guarantee anything but the fact that New York seems to be going in a positive direction. Sticking with Rambis would have been a fatal mistake for a team that was making serious progress over the past year and now the only thing haunting this team is their clear holes and the lack of any 2016 draft choices. Jackson should work hard in the next month to either cozy up to some solid free agents, and/or find a way back into the draft to net another key building block. For all his flaws, Jackson has done three things very right since taking over: he broke up a floundering Knicks team, he got rid of dead weight and he drafted a cornerstone player.
Now he did a fourth thing right by getting a quality head coach. If he can finish the job and add 1-2 key pieces to this roster, they very well could be back in the playoff hunt next season.