Jeff Hornacek Tries Being Tactful About the Triangle


“When you look at the triangle and look at what it can do, there are a lot of options,” he said. “There are a lot of things you can do. You can take pieces of it.”

He went on: “We’re going to do a lot of things from last year and some new things, and we’ll blend it so it gives us some more space.”

For one day at least, no one was dancing on the triangle’s grave. It must have been a disappointment to the team’s long-suffering fans, who were waiting for Hornacek to bust free from triangle purgatory now that Jackson was gone. But Hornacek, whom Jackson hired before the start of last season, was both tactful and evasive.

Hornacek did say he wanted the Knicks to play with more tempo. (“We want to try to get the ball up the court,” he said.) He did not rule out incorporating more of the plays he ran when he was coaching the Phoenix Suns. (“That’s possible,” he said.) He also stressed the importance of defense. Lest we forget, the Knicks were horrible defenders last season.

“We’ve got to play better defense, simple as that,” Hornacek said. “Our summer league has really been focused more on that, on really getting after guys. And when we get into the regular season, it’s the same thing. If we’re going to win, we have to get much better on defense.”

On Thursday, Frank Ntilikina, the team’s first-round pick in last week’s N.B.A. draft, missed practice because of a bruised knee (adding comedy to injury, his name was also misspelled on his jersey). Ntilikina, whom Jackson had drafted in part because of his supposed fit in the triangle, said he had sustained the injury the day after the draft in his final playoff game for Strasbourg, his club team in France.

“Bumped knee,” Ntilikina said. “Sore knee. Nothing crazy, but we played a lot of games in France — more than college games — and I was just pretty tired and this happened.”

Photo

Coach Jeff Hornacek during the Knicks’ season finale in April. Aside from an up-tempo offense, he wants better defense.

Credit
Ben Solomon for The New York Times

But Ntilikina also delivered some good news when he revealed that he had exchanged text messages with Kristaps Porzingis. Just a week ago, Jackson was dangling Porzingis on the open market to potential trade partners. Now, Jackson is gone and Porzingis is presumably here to stay. Hornacek, too, said he had texted with Porzingis.

“He’s working hard,” Hornacek said, adding: “There’s no doubt. I know he’s working.”

More uncertain is the future of Carmelo Anthony, whose combustible relationship with Jackson had cast a shadow over the organization for months. Hornacek seemed to offer a tepid response when he was asked whether he wanted to see Anthony on the roster next season.

“Carmelo’s a great player,” Hornacek said. “That guy can really score the ball. So that’s — those are management decisions that come. As coaches, we coach what they give us.”

Anthony, of course, has that notorious no-trade clause — a remnant from the Jackson era that could affect the team moving forward.

Jackson’s presence could continue to be felt in other ways. Clarence Gaines Jr., one of his most trusted advisers, watched Thursday’s practice from the bleachers. Kurt Rambis, the team’s associate head coach and a bespectacled branch of the Jackson coaching tree, stood next to Hornacek and wore a whistle. And we would be remiss to overlook the three remaining years on Joakim Noah’s contract.

Hornacek, though, was something of an outsider when Jackson hired him last summer. Hornacek had never played for Jackson, nor had he coached for him. In many ways, then, he is not beholden to Jackson or to his Zen mystique, which was a charade by the end. With two years left on his contract, Hornacek ought to look ahead and leave trigonometry in the past.

He now has a chance to shape the Knicks into whatever he wants.

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