The company man: Why the Knicks should not fire Jeff Hornacek
On Wednesday, Courtney Lee came out and told reporters that New York Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek is not to blame for this season’s woes. In all honesty, Lee’s claims may have some validity. With the rank of the team quickly descending after November, it is easy see why Hornacek’s job security is not so great. However, to put all the blame on the coach would be an insult to everything he tried to do this season. To fire Jeff Hornacek would certainly be a mistake.
Hornacek’s Uphill Battle
When Jeff Hornacek became the head coach of the New York Knicks, the team was drowning in frustration. Carmelo Anthony was unhappy with the team. Players were unhappy with President of Basketball Operations, Phil Jackson. Fans everywhere were upset with the organization, as a whole. All the while, Jeff Hornacek was expected to take the reins of a losing team, do what he was told, and lead the team to victory. Save for the last part, Hornacek did just that, even after Anthony and Jackson were gone. Hornacek adopted and attempted to execute the team’s new vision of a developed, young core. Initially off to a rocky start, the team began to find its niche in mid-October. In fact, the team was even the fifth seed in the East. However, all of that changed once the injuries set in.
Courtney Lee hinted at this point and it is a worthy claim: injuries beat the Knicks this season. Of course, that is not to assume that the Knicks were automatically going to win in the finals, let alone make it there. However, it is unfair to neglect the wide array of injuries dealt to New York. Kristaps Porzingis, Enes Kanter, and Tim Hardaway Jr. (the team’s three best players) all suffered with injuries throughout the course of this season. By February, the nail in the coffin came with Kristaps Porzingis’ ACL tear. Without him, it was nearly impossible for the Knicks to consistently win. Jeff Hornacek did what he could with what he had, but without the team’s star it was impossible for the Knicks to get back into playoff contention. If anything, the Knicks don’t have a coaching problem, they have an organization problem.
The Larger Picture
In the last ten years, the Knicks have had five different head coaches, with a sixth likely on the horizon. They have signed players such as Amar’e Stoudemire and Joakim Noah to huge contracts, with little return on their investments. They have gone from “Linsanity” to “Stat and Melo” to “Porzingod”, without any substantial advance into the playoffs. The truth is that the team has tied itself up with too many bad contracts and trades. As a result, the Knicks gave away a startling amount of their future picks for injured, former stars in hopes of instant gratification. It is only this year, under Steve Mills, that the team realized it had to develop its young talent instead of just shipping them off. Jeff Hornacek has been trying to do just that.
Under Hornacek, Kristaps Porzingis was playing at an MVP-level, Tim Hardaway Jr. has been turning into a pure scorer, and Frank Ntilikina has turned heads with his defense. All three still have some distance to go, but in just one season how much can the team really expect? Once again, factoring in all the injuries, delivering a winning season was nearly impossible. To fire Hornacek for something far outside of his control would, frankly, be silly.
All Jeff Hornacek has been doing is following the instructions of the front office. If the organization wants to use him as a scapegoat, that is their decision. However, after one season with this new vision in place, it would be a mistake to fire Hornacek. The reality of the matter is that the Knicks were the fifth seed in the East before all the injuries set. How could that possibly be Hornacek’s fault? The Knicks need to slow down and give him the chance to fully execute their plan before they arbitrarily fire him. Perhaps giving Hornacek the benefit of the doubt is the only way the Big Apple can avoid having a rotten core in the future.