When the New York Knicks hired Jeff Hornacek to be their head coach in June 2016, there were more than a few eyebrows raised.
Then team president Phil Jackson shocked many by hiring Hornacek mainly because he hadn’t played or worked under him before in any capacity. Leading up to Hornacek’s hiring, it was widely believed that Jackson would bring in someone from his own coaching tree to instill principles of the triangle offense.
Hornacek compiled a 101-112 record with the Phoenix Suns in two and half seasons at the helm before things fizzled out and he was fired by the team in February 2016. Hornacek shocked many in his first season by leading the Suns to a 48-34 record during the 2014 campaign and narrowly missing the playoffs with a team predicted to finish in the draft lottery.
Fast forward to 2018 and the heat around Hornacek may continue to get hotter.
The Knicks (24-41) are set to endure their fifth consecutive losing season dating back to 2013. As the leader of the Knicks, Hornacek has compiled a 55-92 record and the squad is stumbling down the stretch losing nine of their past 10 games, with five straight losses.
As the losses continue to mount, rumors have been circulating that Hornacek’s future with the franchise may be in jeopardy to which the veteran coach largely has dismissed, since he has one-year remaining on his current contract.
“I still have next year, unless they tell me something different,” Hornacek said according to Chris Iseman of the Bergen Record.
To be fair, Hornacek’s tenure of the Knicks has been shaped by continuous roster shuffling, uncertainty, diminished production and injury.
Back in February, the Knicks lost All-Star forward Kristaps Porzingis for the remainder of the season due to a torn left ACL. At the time, Porzingis was averaging 22.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Losing that type of production at the top would derail a title contender, let alone a team barely projected to contend for a .500 record.
Hornacek has also been impacted by diminished returns. Former All-Star center Joakim Noah was one of the first Knicks signings after Hornacek was hired as head coach. The veteran has appeared in just 53 contests with New York after signing a four-year, $72 million contract and recently told to stay away from the team as he’s no longer in the franchise’s plans.
The Knicks also traded future Hall of Famer Carmelo Anthony before the start of the season, which put Hornacek in a bind by forcing him to figure out how to replace Anthony’s 20-plus point per game production. One of the players expected to pick up Anthony’s slack offensively was shooting guard Tim Hardaway, Jr.
The club signed Hardaway to a massive four-year, $70 million deal last summer after a breakout campaign in Atlanta. While Hardaway has provided 17 points per game, he missed over 20 contests due to an injury at the beginning of the season and he’s also shooting the lowest three-point percentage (31 percent) of his career.
Despite the many hindrances impacting the Knicks, Hornacek acknowledges the need to win more consistently.
“Everybody wants to win,” Hornacek said. “But in the NBA, it’s not easy to win. We got to a good start with those guys and then the [Porzingis] injury, were we deep enough with top guys to overcome that? Obviously we weren’t able to. But that doesn’t mean that we haven’t improved. Guys are getting better, trying to improve their competitiveness.”
The Knicks could have up to $25 million in salary cap room this summer in the free agency and trade markets. The team’s biggest free agency question heading into the offseason is whether center Kanter will exercise his $18.6 million player option for the 2019 campaign or opt to test free agency.
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