On Wednesday night, multiple reports said that the New York Knicks will hire Jeff Hornacek as their new head coach, with other candidates being told it is a done deal.
While the move was generally met with applause, as Hornacek proved a capable, intriguing coach in over two seasons with the Phoenix Suns from 2013 to 2015, it raised one huge question about the Knicks’ future:
What will happen to Phil Jackson’s famous triangle offence, and more over, Jackson himself?
While an offensive system is only one aspect of a team’s on-court scheme, for Jackson and the Knicks, it may be the most notable. Jackson won 11 championships coaching the triangle with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, and later with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s largely been unsuccessful when other teams have deployed it, including the Knicks, whose use of the system that last two seasons has been polarising and underwhelming.
The future of the triangle has been brought up, because Hornacek, by and large, seems to have relatively little connection with Jackson or the system, and it raises questions about Jackson’s future.
Hornacek never played under Jackson or in the system, and he never coached it with Phoenix, either. Additionally, Jackson has stated that he would prefer to hire a coach with triangle experience and with whom he had a relationship (after firing Derek Fisher in the middle of the 2015-16 season, Jackson said Fisher’s lack of communication was a primary factor).
The hiring can be seen two ways, and they’re not exclusive views. First: Jackson may realise that the triangle’s principles are slightly outdated and ill-fitting of his roster, so he’s bringing in a coach with more modern principles on offence to coach the Knicks. In Phoenix, Hornacek ran the type of high-octane, pace-and-space offence that can be seen around the NBA today.
And, second: this move wasn’t made by Jackson, who reportedly makes $12 million per season to run the Knicks and is supposed to have complete control over basketball moves.
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said the latter on Thursday, saying, “In the NBA, you can really discern what sort of power a person has based on who they hire. … This is not a Phil Jackson hire.”
Windhorst noted that Hornacek doesn’t meet any of the criteria Jackson claimed to have wanted in a coach.
“This is a clear indication that Phil Jackson does not have the kind of control within the Knicks that he used to have,” Windhorst said. “A good hire for the Knicks, but very revealing where Phil Jackson is with his owner [Knicks owner], James Dolan.”
Amid rumours that Jackson is already eyeing a return to the Lakers to reunite with his girlfriend and president of the team, Jeanie Buss, it’s interesting that the Knicks’ next head coach seemingly doesn’t meet any of the qualities Jackson wants.
Yet, during his tenure as Knicks president, Jackson has often zigged when others thought he would zag. From his selection of Kristaps Porzingis in last year’s draft, to his low-key, but efficient 2015 free agency signings, Jackson has often operated in a different manner than others expected. A month ago, the hiring of interim head coach and Jackson disciple Kurt Rambis seemed imminent, but now his future is unknown. The idea that Jackson decided to try something new, despite what he’s publicly claimed, can’t be dismissed.
Jackson and the Knicks still have lots of work to do going forward, particularly in free agency this summer, and the hiring of Hornacek, for now, suggests they may do something people didn’t see coming.
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