GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) — The New York Knicks are preaching patience but looking for progress.
Jeff Hornacek got caught in the middle.
The Knicks fired their coach early Thursday, shortly after finishing a 29-53 season. They lost more than 50 games and missed the playoffs both seasons under Hornacek.
“We looked out and we have a plan for what this team should look like over the next three years or so,” Knicks President Steve Mills said. “We just thought this was an opportunity where we thought it was the right time to make a change.”
Mills and general manager Scott Perry said they didn’t see enough improvement on the court and enough communication and accountability off it. They informed Hornacek of their decision at the airport after flying home from a season-ending victory in Cleveland.
“We know the roster is not complete, we understand our roster as well as anybody,” Perry said at a news conference at the team’s training facility. “But again, just in terms of consistency and then a trend I would say toward consistency, Steve and I thought we fell a little bit short in that area.”
Associate head coach Kurt Rambis also was fired.
Hornacek went 60-104 and had a year left on his contract. He became the first coaching change after the NBA regular season finished, with Frank Vogel in Orlando following soon afterward.
The ouster sends the Knicks in search of their 11th coach since Jeff Van Gundy resigned in the 2001-02 season.
Mills said he and Perry were evaluating Hornacek and the Knicks this season on 10-game intervals and saw progress in some areas but not in others. They met with Hornacek a couple of weeks ago to discuss where things stood, so Mills said he didn’t think the decision was a complete shock to the coach.
“Jeff is a positive person and I think he was hopeful that there would be another opportunity, but he’s a pro,” Mills said. “He’s a good man and he took it well.”
Mills continued to say the Knicks are rebuilding, with Perry saying there would be no quick fixes. Still, they apparently expected more this season, which started well but quickly fell apart after injuries to Tim Hardaway Jr. and later the season-ending loss of All-Star Kristaps Porzingis.
“I can’t wrap my thoughts about what management thinks,” Hardaway said. “All I know is that Jeff was great to the guys, and he was a player’s coach.”
Perry said the Knicks were looking for a skilled communicator and effective leader who connects well with today’s players and has a strong defensive mindset. He said there is no timetable to find that person.
Hornacek was hired in 2016 by Phil Jackson and lasted just one more season after Jackson and the team parted ways last summer.
“Jeff is a good guy,” forward Michael Beasley said after Wednesday’s victory. “He played the hand he was dealt. It’s difficult to do anything because all you’re thinking about is not to mess up.”
The Knicks have won only one postseason series since 2002 and didn’t get close to competing in one under Hornacek, running their streak to five straight 50-loss debacles.
Hornacek, previously a head coach for three years in Phoenix, was surprised when he became Jackson’s choice, since they had little relationship other than facing off in the NBA Finals when Hornacek played for Utah and Jackson coached the Chicago Bulls.
Jackson said Hornacek would be allowed to run whatever offense he wanted and not be required to implement the triangle Jackson used as a coach. But he shifted gears during Hornacek’s first season, and the team returned to the triangle with poor results.
Hornacek opened up the offense after Jackson’s departure, and the Knicks started 16-13. But they tailed off toward the middle of the season and then collapsed after Porzingis tore a knee ligament on Feb. 6.
Hornacek tried to preach patience late in the season as the losses piled up with a young roster that defended dismally.
He said he was prepared for the chaos that comes with the Knicks job and he experienced plenty — from Jackson’s feud with Carmelo Anthony, who was eventually traded in September, to his own clash during this season with Joakim Noah, who then remained on the roster but never returned to the team.
With Anthony, Noah and Derrick Rose all gone, the Knicks lacked the veteran roster this season they had when Hornacek was hired with playoff expectations.
Hornacek is 161-216 and has never reached the postseason as an NBA coach.
Rambis, a former assistant under Jackson, originally came to New York to work under Derek Fisher and served as interim head coach for half a season after Fisher was fired.
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