Winning a lot of games isn't exactly a priority for the Knicks in 2017, but that doesn't mean the coaching staff isn't above criticism.
The New York Knicks are 0-3 to start the NBA season, and that's, for lack of a better word, okay. This year was never about reaching the playoffs or indeed winning games at all. No, 2017 is all about The Tank: a year-long process of strategically losing as many games as possible in order to increase the team's odds of landing a high draft pick. After years of doubling down on aging veterans and trying to make it work with Carmelo Anthony, a proper rebuild is happening in New York. Kristaps Porzingis is finally the main guy, and letting him go for 30 points a night while the Knicks try their darndest to lose is honestly the best-case scenario for every game this season.
With that in mind, it'll be interesting to note what faces are still sticking around by this time next year. New York has both interesting assets on tradeable salaries that could entice some teams into giving away picks at the trade deadline (Lee, O'Quinn) as well as albatross-like contracts that at this point seem immovable (Hardaway jr., Noah). Someone who's already on the hot seat though, and someone I don't think many expected to be, is Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek.
"But the Knicks are 0-3, they're tanking this year, isn't this what you want?"
Well, yes and no. The idea is to lose as many games as possible, not to just throw away a year. And at the moment, that's what the Knicks appear to be doing.
Of course, Hornacek isn't responsible for the current logjam at the center position, but he isn't really doing anything to mitigate the negative effects of it either. Willy Hernangomez had some godly per-36 numbers as a rookie last year and was one of the legitimate bright spots on a dysfunctional team riddled with broken down veterans. So when a young player gets drafted out of nowhere and has a rookie season punctuated by nightly double-doubles, it makes complete sense to play him for 10 total minutes (only in garbage time) 3 games into his sophomore campaign, right? Especially in such a low-stakes season where losing games are the priority?
It's mind-boggling, to the point where you have to hope that there's some greater wisdom out there that we aren't privy to. I wouldn't feel as bad about the lack of Hernangomez minutes if I saw some other ways that the team was building chemistry and moving towards a winning culture. But there isn't any semblance of that, in fact, the opposite is happening where now there are reports of certain players not knowing Jeff's plays and a lack of attention in practice. How is this acceptable for any kind of young, developing squad?
You know who is a great example of being a good coach on a bad team? Brett Brown. Up until this year at least, the Sixers have been actively tanking seasons away since 2013, but Brown has been there since day 1 bringing out the best of his meager personnel. In 4 long seasons of almost-unwatchable basketball, there was never, not once, a report of Brown losing the locker room, or butting heads with management. The point that I'm trying to make is that it is completely possible to be a great coach on a bad team, and hamstringing player development for the sake of more losses in a tanking season can't be the way New York goes about 2017.
I don't know if the solution lies in another coach either; to be honest I really wanted to see what Hornacek was capable of now he doesn't have Phil Jackson breathing down his neck. I want to give him a chance, but seeing as how his first act was benching our rookie star, now i'm not so sure. I haven't even got to his refusal to give Frank Ntilikina any meaningful minutes yet, either. Like so many other Knicks fans, I want this team to be moving in the right direction, I just have a feeling that if we ever do, it'll be without Jeff Hornacek at the helm.