By John Schmeelk
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Frank Isola wrote an interesting article in the New York Daily News on Tuesday morning, questioning whether Phil Jackson might be interested in replacing Jeff Hornacek this offseason.
It is a question worth asking given the Knicks’ disastrous season after Jackson put a roster together designed to win now.
The reasons Jackson would want to move on from Hornacek are obvious for everyone to see. The defense has been awful. Early in the season, Hornacek made Jackson’s protégé, Kurt Rambis, the team’s defacto defensive coordinator. There were typical denials that it was not at Jackson’s behest, but given Rambis’ history with the Zen Master it wasn’t hard to connect the dots.
More recently, Jackson has taken to the court, himself, to teach the triangle offense. He could have just as easily tasked this to Hornacek, or worked with him on it. Instead, Jackson led those sessions, making players question who the ultimate person with all the authority is in the locker room.
So, if Jackson has his protégé teaching the defense, and has to step in himself to train the players in different options in the triangle offense, why is Hornacek there? It makes sense for the thought to remove Hornacek to cross Jackson’s mind.
Hornacek’s hire was always an odd choice given his lack of history with Jackson. The two had never had an extended conversation before he interviewed for the job. Hornacek did not run anything close to the triangle offense in Phoenix. He talked about running elements of the triangle, but that hasn’t been enough for Jackson, who wants more. It sounds like what happened towards the end of Derek Fisher’s tenure.
If Jackson does decide he wants to move on from Hornacek, will James Dolan let him? If Hornacek is fired after the season, the Knicks would be paying both him and Fisher next year, along with whoever Jackson decides to hire as the new coach. Would Dolan allow Jackson to pay three coaches at the same time? Money is never an issue for Dolan, but that might be a bridge too far even for him.
When Isiah Thomas was the Knicks general manager he was allowed to cycle through three coaches before Dolan forced him into the coach’s seat. Don Chaney was coaching the team when Thomas took over and was let go rather quickly for Lenny Wilkins. Wilkins lasted for one season in total before getting let go to make way for the eventual hiring of Larry Brown. Brown lasted one season. Thomas was not allowed to replace him. Instead, he was forced to head to the bench himself to coach the team he put together.
Jackson inherited Mike Woodson, and quickly replaced him with Fisher, who in turn lasted a little more than a year before eventually getting replaced by Hornacek. Will Jackson be allowed a fourth coach when Thomas wasn’t?
Jackson has always maintained, and I believe him, that he cannot physically handle the rigors of coaching anymore. So if he can’t coach the team, does that mean Rambis on a minimal contract would be the final coach Jackson is allowed to hire? It would make sense for Jackson to want the team to do things completely his way in his last chance to rescue his legacy as an executive.
For the record, I wrote this article as an exercise in trying to predict Jackson’s possible future decisions. Personally, I don’t think Hornacek should lose his job. He is a good basketball guy and good man that knows how to coach. He has been undermined by a flawed roster and a team president undermining his authority. I felt the same way about Fisher, even with his off-the-court incidents. Neither were perfect, but they deserved more time to figure things out.
Jackson, on the other hand, is running out of chances and time to bring the Knicks out of the doldrums.
- Since Jackson screwed up the Ricky Rubio trade, Rubio has had eight or more assists in nine straight games and 10 or more in seven of his last nine. He is coming off a 22-point, 19-assist game in a win over John Wall and the Wizards. He has played great basketball. There’s no doubt he would have helped the Knicks long term at point guard, but he also would have made the #Knickstank almost impossible. The Knicks have a real shot at a top 5 pick, but if Rubio was here the pick would only be around 10. If the Wolves are still looking to deal Rubio in the offseason, maybe the Knicks can work out a new deal.
Knicks Tankathon Update
- Only five teams have more losses and lower winning percentages than the Knicks, who are tied for the sixth spot with the Kings. The Pelicans are just one spot behind with one fewer loss. The Sixers only have one more loss than the Knicks. It is really tight between the eighth and fifth spots, which is more than likely where the Knicks will land in terms lottery odds. The Magic sit in the fourth spot, but they have three more losses than the Knicks.
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