Jeff Hornacek was on the Jazz teams that made the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998, only to lose to Phil Jackson’s Bulls. Now in a surprise move, the Zen Master has reportedly picked the former sharpshooter to be the new head coach of the Knicks.
It looked like Kurt Rambis would simply have his interim tag removed, but that didn’t happen. And all the notable names on the wish list of Knicks fans, Tom Thibodeau, Frank Vogel, Luke Walton, Patrick Ewing, didn’t get the job either.
Jackson started talking to Hornacek, who has no connection to Jackson other than when Chicago tried to trade for him in 1994. There is also no connection between Hornacek and the triangle offense, which raises the question: will Hornacek be asked to run the triangle, or will Jackson let him run whatever offense he wants?
Hornacek played for Jerry Sloan, and Sloan had played for Chicago to the early-70s, one of the toughest players of his era. Jackson may see some kindred spirit, hoping that Hornacek can be a throwback to that era when Jackson and the Knicks were winning with unselfish passing and tenacious defense. Jackson would love to bring a winner back to New York, to follow in the legacy of his idol, Red Holzman, even if it was Jackson who stood in the way of the Knicks in the 90s.
It still seems out of the blue that Hornacek will coach the Knicks. It seemed certain that Jackson wanted someone who would run the triangle. Is it possible that the deep dislike of Rambis by Knicks fans had something to do with Jackson’s decision? Probably not. He’s never cared much about public opinion. If the organization listened to the fans for every move, Kristaps Porzingis never would have been drafted.
Rambis went 9-19 after replacing Derek Fisher, which probably wasn’t enough to scare Jackson off from making him the full-time coach. The high point of Rambis’ coaching career came in 1999 when he went 24-13 with the Shaq/Kobe Lakers but even that ended with a second round sweep. He was replaced by Jackson who then won three titles in a row. Rambis resurfaced in Minnesota but went 32-132.
In 2013-2014, Hornacek finished second in the Coach of the Year voting when he took the Suns from 25 wins to 48 in his first season. Phoenix couldn’t build on that, falling to 39 wins in 2014-15. After a 14-35 start last season, Hornacek was fired. His dismissal came days before the Knicks canned Derek Fisher.
Hornacek will be the 10th man to coach the Knicks since Jeff Van Gundy walked away in 2001. Perhaps he can end an era of musical chairs at the head coaching position. He might not be the biggest name but here are some other big names the Knicks have had: Don Nelson (fired after 59 games), Lenny Wilkens (fired after 81 games over two seasons), and Larry Brown (fired after one season).
Even if the Knicks are not world-beaters in the near future, it gives Hornacek a chance to at least establish an identity with a building team while some better players are on the horizon.
This is not the first time that a former Suns coach has wound up coming East. John MacLeod coached the Suns from 1973-87, leading Phoenix to the 1976 Finals. He coached the Knicks for most of the 90-91 season but was let go after getting swept by the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. And Mike D’Antoni led the Suns to a pair of conference finals but failed to find the same success in New York. Now the Knicks hope that there will be a coach who fares better in the Big Apple.