Jeff Hornacek was introduced as the new head coach of the Knicks on Friday afternoon at a press conference with team President Phil Jackson and General Manager Steve Mills.
Hornacek was one of the best shooters in the NBA during his career form 1986 to 2000, when he played for Phoenix, Philadelphia, and Utah.
After he retired, he became a shooting coach in Utah working with Andrei Kirilenko and was an assistant coach there from 2011 to 2013.
Hornacek became head coach of the Phoenix Suns in 2013, and won 48 games in his first season at the helm, 2013-14. The Suns took a step back the following year because of injuries, as they went 39-43, and Hornacek was dismissed halfway through the 2015-16 season when the Suns were 14-35.
Jackson said to open the press conference, “We’re happy today to celebrate this moment. We have known Jeff or a long time, obviously, the NBA community’s small, had close relationships with him in the late ’90s and wondered, as he retired, when he was going to come back to coaching, which was about six, seven years ago. He was a shooting coach prior to that, and we watched him develop players in Utah and admired that he was interested to come back to the game.
“He fit the profile of a lot of guys that we liked to feature on our teams back in the ’90s and 2000s. I always admired his skill and his basketball knowledge on the floor. I paid attention to his initial year in Phoenix and subsequent seasons, and was able to contact him in April and talked to him about having an interview, which worked out since his daughter graduated from USC a couple of weeks ago. Congratulations Jeff,” said Jackson.
“I’m excited, honored to be coach of this great franchise,” said Hornacek. “I come in here, you look at the great players that are up on the banners, and all the years, and the time that I was playing, it was always a special feeling coming here to New York to play. There was actually one time I thought I was going to get traded from the Sixers to the Knicks. The great writer Phil Jasner called me at midnight one night and said, ‘you’re traded to the Knicks,’ and I’m like ‘I haven’t gotten a call yet.’ So, I thought I was going to be here as a player, but I’m really excited to be here, my family’s excited to be here, to coach the Knicks.
“Going through this process, getting back to I think where all the Knicks fans want us to be, I think it’s going to be an exciting ride. Again, I’m very appreciative of the offer. I think we’ve got a great mix of players. We’ve got some veterans, got some young players, and as a coach, you’re looking for that balance. We’re excited to get this going.”
The assumption when the coaching search started was that Jackson would hire someone from his inner circle of players he coached, or those who were assistant coaches for him. This is why early on it looked like he would remove the “interim” tag from Kurt Rambis and make him the full-time head coach.
Jackson said of going outside the box to hire Hornacek, “Knowing him as a competitor and as a player and as a coach, the demeanor, you know, things I like about Jeff, he’s a person you can relate to and, when I first made the call he took the call from a hospital room where his mother-in-law was rehabbing from a knee and it’s one of those things that was just right off the bat, the communication level that went on forward from there. That comfort level was possible, and the basketball knowledge that he has and the familiarity that he has with playing basketball are the things that attracted us together.”
Jackson was then asked the inevitable question, about whether they would run the “triangle” offense under Hornacek.
While answering, Jackson referenced legendary coach, Cotton Fitzsimmons, who who was with Hornacek in Phoenix in the 1980s.
“It’s second, I thought it would be first,” said Jackson, commenting initially on when the triangle question was asked in the press conference. “So, Jeff was like, ‘is this basketball?’ and I said, ‘well, I guess so,’ and he said ‘well, I think playing basketball over the years, it’s incorporated into that system of basketball no matter where you’re at.’ In our conversations, playing for Cotton Fitzsimmons, I told him that Cotton was the replacement for Tex Winter at Kansas State, and was one of the first guys that wrote the book, or videographed copies of Tex Winter’s book and handed it out in his clinics. So he (Hornacek) said, ‘well, I didn’t know that, Cotton never said any of that,’ but Cotton employed all of that stuff in his offense, so it’s all part of basketball and Jeff recognizes that.”
Jackson all but admitted that Hornacek is the Knicks coach because he understands the value of the triangle and the fact that he played for the Godfather of it, Fitzsimmons, only helped his cause in getting the job.
Hornacek said of the offense, “That’s the biggest thing, there must be something about the word triangle, maybe we’ll come up with a circle offense, I don’t know. When you look at the way, to me, it’s just a way to space the floor. When I was talking with Coach (Jackson) in L.A., and started to look at things that I would like to do out of the triangle offense, he goes, ‘you could run every play you want out of the triangle offense,’ so really it’s not, I thinkpeople have this notion, in Utah when I played, we had the 1-4 set, it’s just a way to space the floor. It’s the same reads, a lot of the same reads that we did then, in today’s game with the pick-and-rolls, it’s just reading basketball.
“Again, when I look at it, you take the normal set-up of a team, most of the teams, you could watch Golden State, you could watch almost any teams that run pick-and-rolls, the spacing.
“If you just put, move one guy six feet to the side and one guy six feet down, you’re in the same exact alignment. So, again, it’s something that we can run a lot of plays out of, it’ll be a part of our offense. It’s something that has worked, that has won championships, and I guess when I went to interview with Phil, and we were talking about New York, ‘what better place to coach than New York.’ and of course, ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,’ so we lost twice to his teams when he was coaching the Bulls (1997 and 1998 when Hornacek was on Utah). It’s a good set for the court and you can run a lot of things out of it.”
Hornacek articulated the triangle in such a simple way and took away its mistique. The fact that he implied Golden State uses elements of it bolsters Jackson’s case that it can still be used in the modern game and be successful with it.