Let me preface this by saying that I truly admire Phil Jackson. I think the things he did in both Chicago and Los Angeles should be celebrated. I do not think that what has happened here in New York in any way diminishes what the Zen Master has done throughout his entire career.
The Knicks franchise is in trouble. They need to hit the reset button. They had a chance when they fired Derek Fisher (which was by far the worst coaching hire ever, and I would be able to write for paragraphs on that) to make a change, to hit that button. But Phil and this organization showed that they are much more than a coaching hire away from building this thing. They need a change at a much higher level than that.
Now, Jeff Hornacek. I do not think that everything that happened with the Suns is completely on him. He was a big part in the turnaround from 25-57 in the year before he came to the 48-34 record he had in year 1. However, when it comes to coaches on any level, I truly believe that you cannot look at year 1 to determine the effectiveness of a coach. In year 1, you have all the “rah-rah” hype train that goes with the excitement of a new era. The players play a little harder, the fans judge a little less, and the team gets to play loose because they just got out of an already bad relationship. It’s like being the QB right at the beginning for a team like the Miami Dolphins or Cleveland Browns. You don’t remember how bad a guy like Cleo Lemon was until John Beck takes the field.
After year 1 is when I think you really learn about a coach because his “rah-rah” speech is no longer enough. Now it is about growing from year to year, and making those players continue to be interested. Hornacek went from 48-34, to 39-43, to 14-35 (Before being fired for Earl Watson.. wow. Earl Watson and Derek Fisher, coaches in your NBA). Getting progressively worse to me is a direct correlation to not being able to handle egos. I truly believe that egos lead to them breaking up the Bledsoe/Dragic/Thomas 3-headed monster (by trading for Knight who is worse than all 3). Egos lead to them giving the Morris brothers big money, and then trading one of them and then dangling the other. That is just bad business. Whether that was on Hornacek or not, you don’t see that happening with good organizations across sports.
Now I want to make something clear at this point. I think there is a definite possibility that Jeff Hornacek could be a great basketball mind, and even a great coach.
I don’t think that the Knicks are in a position where they can afford to not be sure. 110% sure. They don’t need someone who may not be able to handle Carmelo. You don’t need someone who will not be sure on personnel. You need someone who is going to come in with a direction. Like it or not, the Knicks are married to Carmelo. The days are over where the Bulls would’ve given up a fortune for him. They need a coach that will come in with demands. Defensive demands. Year by year, Hornacek’s Suns were very mediocre defensively.
The Knicks needed to go all out on Frank Vogel, Tom Thibodeau, hell, Avery Johnson or even Jeff Van Gundy. They needed to hire a coach who, when he walks in on day 1, demands the respect of every single member of the locker room. For me, Hornacek does not do that. Jeff Hornacek does not excite me enough to think that a player will now want to sign with the Knicks and team with Melo. I’m not excited enough to think that the tide may now turn from the Knicks. To me, this screams like a bad rerun. Like a movie that we’ve already seen time and time again.
The real guy the Knicks should have hired is Patrick Ewing. On a side note, I have no idea why Ewing has not gotten a job. When there are head coaches being hired right off the court, I don’t see how a long time former player, turned assistant coach, hasn’t gotten a chance. This is the type of hire, though, that demands respect in a locker room. This is the type of guy who knows what success is in New York. This makes people excited. This is the type of reset the Knicks could use, because Ewing doesn’t scream Jackson’s puppet. He seems like the type of guy who has paved his way as an assistant, and is ready to build a team.
At some point, the Knicks will need to hit the total reset. They will need to stop trading draft picks, and find a year in the near future that they can get out of cap hell. Not by signing the Aaron Afflalo’s and Robin Lopez’s of the world. I personally just do not feel as though they can do this with Phil Jackson. I think Phil has too much pride, and needs to bring in his guys, and try to build a winning team when he is only going in the wrong direction.
To answer the initial question that was posed here, I do believe that the Knicks would’ve been better off getting a divorce from Phil Jackson than they are now with Hornacek. Like I have now said a couple times, the Knicks need to hit the reset button. They need a GM, a President, who they feel will be here over the next 4-5 years to fix what has been done. I don’t think Phil is the type of guy that can continue to be bad for that long, and that is what will be his downfall.
So I’m going to end this here with a quote from Mamata Banerjee, who said: “Change is a continuous process. You cannot assess it with the static yardstick of a limited time frame. When a seed is sown into the ground, you cannot immediately see the plant. You have to be patient. With time, it grows into a large tree. And then the flowers bloom, and only then can the fruits be plucked. “
Phil Jackson, for all his greatness, is becoming that static yardstick immediately trying to see the plant.