The imminent arrival of Jeff Hornacek surrounds Phil Jackson with more question marks

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The New York Knicks are expected to name Jeff Hornacek as their new head coach imminently but he will not be obliged to play the triangle offence that president Phil Jackson is so desperate to see. 

Why the sudden change of approach from the Zen Master?

Since their coaching search began when the regular season concluded, it was made clear that Jackson was seeking a coach who could adopt his beloved triangle system. 

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It's no secret that the former L.A. Lakers head coach wanted to give the job to his close friend Kurt Rambis, despite his uninspiring record of 65-164 in his coaching career. 

The former Lakers player assumed interim duties after Derek Fisher - a former player under Phil in Los Angeles - was fired in February. 

If the Knicks president had got his way, Rambis would have been announced as the team's new coach on a long-term deal a long time ago. The decision to go with Hornacek, however, shows that Jackson didn't have things all his own way. 


Since being hired as president on a five-year $60 million contract in 2014, P-Jax has not endeared himself much to the New York faithful. 

Drafting Kristaps Porzingis aside, the 70-year-old has done very little in his two years to make the franchise in the Big Apple competitive again. 

This offseason is the biggest in his time in NY with an opportunity to bring in an experienced coach and challenge for some of the top free agents on the market. The former hasn't got off to the best start. 

The decision to go with Hornacek hasn't been met with negativity by the team's fans, but confusion instead. The criteria for the new coach was laid out; they must be willing to operate a triangle offence - the system that Jackson was so successful with, winning 11 rings with the Chicago Bulls and the Lakers. 

“That’s what I was brought here for — to install a system,” Jackson said in April when the 82-game campaign had ended. “That’s all part of the package.”

The one-time NBA coach of the Year's stubbornness saw the best coaches on the market land in different spots. Tom Thibodeau - a former assistant coach with the Knicks - signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Scott Brooks joined the Washington Wizards. 

Even one of Jackson's preferred candidates, his former Lakers player Luke Walton - whose stock rose after guiding the Golden State Warriors to a record 24-0 start in the absence of Steve Kerr - declined his overtures and accepted the head coaching position with the Purple and Gold.

Jackson, the ex-Bulls coach, made his feelings perfectly when he said: “Only people I probably know will be in the interview process.”

Which immediately poses the question, how does Hornacek fit into this?


The former Phoenix Suns coach has no prior relationship with Jackson nor any experience of running the triangle system.

In his only head coaching role in the league in Arizona, his teams played with a quick tempo, shot a high percentage of threes and ran pick-and-roll sets up top for their talented point guards of Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, and Eric Bledsoe. 

The Knicks are not blessed with that level of quality at the point guard position so it's possible that the 53-year-old won the Zen Master over by promising a style of play that incorporates the triangle principles with a modern twist. 

In an interview with Sirius XM Radio, ex-Knicks coach and ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy provided some insight on what will be expected of the impending Knicks coach. 

"The things I've heard is that he's not going to be required to run the triangle," Van Gundy said. "Which is smart from the standpoint that he's never taught it before. So you don't want to come in trying [something] that you've never played in or taught. I'm interested in that. But I think it's an inspired choice."

Despite not being officially announced as the team's new coach yet, Carmelo Anthony has already signalled his excitement at operating in Hornacek's offence.

"Everybody knows he likes to play an up-tempo pace of game, likes to get out in transition, likes to speed the game up a lot. So from that standpoint, I'll definitely be looking forward to that," he said.

Jackson - a two-time champion as a player - will pass off the hiring of Hornacek as his own and a way of proving to people that he was open to change and wouldn't be influenced in his choice.

The truth of the matter is, whether he admits it or not, he decided against giving Rambis the permanent role after negative reaction from fans and media. 

Per the New York Post, one person close to the situation said, “Phil was getting murdered for hiring somebody he didn’t hire.” 

General manager Steve Mills pushed for former Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt whom he played with in college and fans were keen to see Frank Vogel get the nod after he became available when the Indiana Pacers decided not to renew his contract. He, however, chose to take the vacant position at the Orlando Magic. 

The long process identifying a new coach has only thrown up more questions than answers at Madison Square Garden.  

If the Knicks approach free agency in the same manner, it won't bode well for their chances of bringing in an established player, which Jackson will ultimately be judged on.  

The former Knicks player has an opt-out clause in his five-year deal as president which would allow him to depart after next season - as many expect him to do - but he will need to recruit well in the offseason to avoid his tenure being labelled as a disaster. 

The fans are not mad at the imminent arrival of Jeff Hornacek, but they are not enamoured either. Phil Jackson still needs to pull a rabbit out of the hat to win over the demanding faithful in the NBA's biggest market. 

New York Knicks
Atlantic Division
Eastern Conference
Kristaps Porzingis
Arron Afflalo
Carmelo Anthony

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