NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Knicks have hired Jeff Hornacek, who emerged last month as Phil Jackson’s surprising coaching choice.
Jackson went with the former Phoenix Suns coach over anyone who had played or worked under him, even though he had said after the season he would likely pick somebody he already knew.
Hornacek takes over a Knicks team that went 32-50 last season, missing the playoffs for the third straight season. The Knicks finished the season with Kurt Rambis as interim coach after Jackson fired Derek Fisher in February.
“Jeff has a tremendous basketball acumen and possesses strong leadership skills,” Jackson said Thursday in a statement. “During his career as both a player and coach, he has demonstrated the ability to elevate the game.”
The two discussed the job in mid-May but took more than two weeks to complete a contract. The Knicks plan to introduce Hornacek, the 28th coach in franchise history, at a news conference Friday.
Hornacek went 101-112 in 2 1/2 seasons in Phoenix before he was fired Feb. 1 with a 14-35 record. He led the Suns to a surprising 48-34 record in his first season, when they almost made the playoffs with a team that was expected to be one of the worst in the league, but the team was in one of the worst stretches in its history when he was dismissed.
Jackson also met with former Cleveland coach David Blatt and former Indiana coach Frank Vogel before turning his attention to Hornacek. Vogel was hired by the Orlando Magic.
Hornacek called Jackson “a coach and teacher of the game I have admired for many years,” adding that was looking forward to “collaborating with him and our staff to take this team to the level that Knicks fans expect.”
Hornacek becomes the fourth Knicks coach since Jackson joined the organization as president of basketball operations in March 2014. Mike Woodson was fired at the end of that season and Jackson hired Fisher, who lasted 1 1/2 seasons after making the transition to the bench right after the end of his playing career.
Rambis had been the only candidate Jackson identified after the season ended in April. He was only 9-19 after replacing Fisher, but is close with Jackson and runs the triangle offense that Jackson favors.
Hornacek, who played in two NBA Finals with the Utah Jazz when they lost to Jackson’s Chicago Bulls, ran a fast-paced, guard-oriented offense in Phoenix, where Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas thrived before they were traded.
The Knicks lack the dynamic guard personnel to play that way but have also struggled to grasp the triangle, so Hornacek may have to blend systems to find something that works.