Goodbye Rambis, Hello…um…Hornacek?

The New York Knicks have finally made a decision on who to turn the franchise over to and it wasn’t Phil’s best buddy Kurt Rambis who has a pretty pathetic head coaching record, and frankly, excited no one. And it wasn’t David Blatt, the former Cavs coach who found a way to co-exist with LeBron James, until he couldn’t. And it wasn’t Frank Vogel, the defensive coach whose dominant teams struggled to score in key moments. The Knicks, in a surprise move, hired Jeff Hornacek who last coached the Phoenix Suns before he was fired three months ago.

Hornacek was fired in February, in his third season as the Suns coach. His first year, Hornacek shocked everyone with a 48-34 record and the Suns finished in the 9th seed in the tough guard driven Western Conference. The next year, it was a little bit of a slide back as the defense was mediocre. The Suns won 39 games and in the lottery snagged Devin Booker, one of the bright rookies of this past season. But Hornacek couldn’t stop the train from falling off a cliff. The Suns lost 14 games in a row on the road and 19 out of 21 overall, as they bled their way into the lottery.

Hornacek the Coach Points 3-Point % Pace Points Allowed Defensive Rating
2015-16 100.9 (22nd) 34.9% (17th) 98.5 (3rd) 107.5 (28th) 109.0 (25th)
2014-15 102.4 (11th) 34.1% (21st) 96.3 (3rd) 103.3 (26th) 106.2 (17th)
2013-14 105.2 (7th) 37.2% (8th) 95.8 (8th) 102.6 (21st) 106.7 (15th)

Hornacek, a tough and gritty guard for the Suns and Utah Jazz, who played in the NBA Finals against Jordan’s Bulls, was a surprise coaching hire for Phoenix in 2013, and for three years he compiled a record of 101-112. He spearheaded an offense of three combo guards and posted aggressive scoring numbers but the defense was inept. Furthermore, there was no way to keep the three guards happy. One of the guards, usually Goran Dragic, was forced into camping out at the three point line and waiting for the ball to come to him when he was used to having it in his hands. The responsibility of playmaker fell to Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe. Hornacek never made the adjustment to enable Dragic so he felt a part of the high energy guard attack and Dragic, who was a free agent at the end of the season, demanded to be traded.

Hornacek also struggled with shooting guard Gerald Green which isn’t a surprise since Green can be immature and volatile. The Morris twins weren’t a picnic either. But Hornacek, in his rookie coaching stint, came into the high octane Western Conference and for at least his first two seasons, competed well enough that the Suns almost made the playoffs.

But what happened to Hornacek when his team started to lose was what happens to all coaches. The players tuned him out. Emotions ran out of control and Hornacek couldn’t rein it back in. His defensive schemes were either atrocious or ignored and Hornacek didn’t fully grasp why a three guard offense with 5-9 Isaiah Thomas and 6-1 Eric Bledsoe and 6-3 Goran Dragic was going to have huge defensive liabilities with so many big guards ala Klay Thompson and James Harden dominating the west.

The question of Hornacek as a defensive coach has merit. Is he just a different version of Mike D’Antoni? A lot of scoring. A lot of not guarding.

For the Knicks franchise, this was an important win for James Dolan and Carmelo Anthony who didn’t want Kurt Rambis for all the triangle is dead, he’s failed everywhere reasons. Rambis is a retread whose ceiling is as an assistant coach. He was the wrong leader for the Knicks even if he was a safe and trusted one by Jackson whose ultimate power in the organization has taken a small dive. Don’t get it twisted. He is still the Zen Master but his ultimate authority as the first and last word has been usurped by his boss, James Dolan.

Hornacek being guard friendly indicates the Knicks are all in on the Mike Conley or Rajon Rondo sweepstakes and can finally begin the season with a quality point. But the rest of it, Porzingis under Hornacek, Carmelo’s role, what he can do with the Knicks bench, is a huge unknown. This is for sure, the Knicks will play at a blistering pace.

The best thing you can say about Jeff Hornacek is that he’s not Kurt Rambis. The worst thing you can say about Jeff Hornacek is that he was fired in February, after two and a half seasons.

photo via llananba