The New York Knicks will reportedly hire Jeff Hornacek to be their next head coach.
That’s right. Jeff Hornacek. Not Kurt Rambis, not Luke Walton, not any Phil Jackson or triangle disciple.
“Part of the connection is the fact that Phil Jackson admired Hornacek as a player,” Bleacher Report senior NBA writer Howard Beck said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “Yeah, Hornacek played for the Utah Jazz and Jerry Sloan and the Jazz and the Bulls played in two straight Finals, and so Phil did get a good look at Hornacek back then. But he was just a guy he admired as a player – not because of his play against the triangle, but because Jerry Sloan’s offense often featured a two-guard front, which the trial offense does. Jerry Sloan’s offense was also about some ball and player movement and players reacting, thinking for themselves – not just having everything dictated to them from the sidelines. So what Phil admired about Hornacek was, I think, the way he thinks through the game. When a coach is observing a player, you get a pretty good feel for the guys who kind of have that high basketball IQ with the way they play on the court.
“So there’s that,” Beck continued. “And having covered Phil in L.A. for five years, I can tell you the one coach in that time that Phil would single out for praise was Jerry Sloan. And we know that Phil is not a big member of the coaching fraternity. He’s had spats with any number of coaches over the years, but Sloan is a guy that he has absolute respect and high regard for and would speak about that openly.”
Hornacek, an offensive-minded coach who likes to space the floor and push the action, was fired less than three full seasons into his Phoenix tenure. The 53-year-old hopes to find greater success in New York – ideally, one would think, without caving to Jackson’s wishes.
“He believes in system basketball,” Beck said of Jackson. “Now the triangle is the system that he favors and has used for 11 championship rings as a coach. But when he says system basketball, what he really means is any system that features ball and player movement, keeps all five guys involved, is not just one long series of pick-and-rolls or a ton of isolation play. He wants a structure that, within that structure, players can then have some freedom in terms of creativity and to play off of each other, to read the defense and make smart decisions based on what the defense is doing. The triangle is one way of doing that. There are other systems he admires.”
Such as the system in San Antonio. And Golden State.
“So it’a not that Phil Jackson would only want to run the triangle,” Beck said. “It’s his first preference, but I think once you consider the other coaching options out there when you look at where the game is today – and I think this is at least a small consideration – yeah, Kurt Rambis was not going to be a very popular choice among fans and maybe even among some of the players. Maybe that pushed Phil Jackson to consider other options a little more strongly, and once he found someone he connected with intellectually as he did with Hornacek, he had his choice.”