Phil Jackson’s long, strange trip to hire a new coach for the New York Knicks is apparently close to ending. Jackson, the team’s president, has honed in on Jeff Hornacek, who was let go as coach of the Phoenix Suns this season after 49 games.
Hornacek, 53, coached the Suns for two full seasons before this one, compiling a 101-112 record, though his first year — at 48-34 — was considered an overachievement by most NBA observers. His teams played an up-tempo offense. He also was an assistant with the Utah Jazz for three seasons.
Hornacek was a late entry into contention for the job, with news of his meeting with Jackson reported this week. A person with knowledge of the Knicks’ coaching search confirmed that Jackson had settled on Hornacek after the meeting was first reported Wednesday night by Howard Beck of Bleacher Report.
Another person who has spoken with Jackson said that while no deal was in place, there was strong mutual interest and that Jackson believed Hornacek was the best of the availablecandidates.
For weeks, speculation was rampant that Jackson wished to retain Kurt Rambis, who was elevated to interim coach after Derek Fisher was fired in early February after one and a half seasons. After dismissing Fisher, Jackson said he preferred a coach he would be familiar with and who presumably would continue to run his preferred triangle offense.
But Jackson also knew he would face a news media and fan backlash — and possibly one from the owner, James L. Dolan — if he hired Rambis, 58, an uninspiring choice whose career coaching record is 65-164.
In recent interviews, Carmelo Anthony was adamant in saying he wanted Jackson to interview more candidates, and Jackson did so, meeting with David Blatt, fired in Cleveland this season, and Frank Vogel, whose contract was not renewed after five and a half seasons with the Indiana Pacers.
Hornacek, a 6-foot-3 shooting guard, had a 14-year career with Phoenix, Philadelphia and Utah, averaging 14.5 points per game and appearing in one All-Star game.