Here's the only deal on Jeff Hornacek that matters: It won't matter how good he might turn out to be at the job of coaching the Knicks if Phil Jackson, legendary coach who doesn't coach anymore, doesn't get better at his job. In what is still a players' league, the Knicks do not have nearly enough of them.
When Bill Parcells took over the Jets, they were 1-15. Parcells wasn't just the executive in charge of the Jets, he was their coach, as they went from 1-15 to 9-7 and nearly making the playoffs to coming within one half the next year of making it all the way to the Super Bowl. We're told that the physical toll of coaching is too much for Jackson, who will turn 71 in September. No shame there. But in more than two years back in town, what has Jackson done to convince any Knick fan that he has a passion for the fulltime grind of being a modern sports executive capable of turning the Knicks around the way Parcells turned the Jets around?
What has he done to indicate he has the executive chops to build a basketball team good enough to beat LeBron in the Eastern Conference before he heads back to southern California for good?
People don't want to hear another word about a triangle offense with which he won when he had Michael and Scottie and Kobe and Shaq and Gasol. Good grief, it sounds sometimes like he is speaking wistfully about hula hoops. Knick fans don't want to hear about truth and beauty. They want their team to win again. Jackson didn't inherit a team that was the NBA equivalent of the 1-15 Jets. No, what Jackson did was immediately turn the Knicks into the NBA equivalent of 1-15.
When he got the job, a Knick team that had fallen out of things early because of injuries was in the process of going 37-45. Now they are 49-115 over Jackson's first two seasons as team president. Of course it was Parcells who said, and famously, that you are what you record says you are.
This isn't about the record 11 rings he won in Chicago and Los Angeles. This is about his record here. That's the one on which this particular candidate is running. We've had five weeks of talking about Rambis, who shouldn't have been a serious candidate in the first place, and David Blatt, and Frank Vogel and finally Jeff Hornacek, who is a good basketball coach and has been an even better guy across a distinguished NBA life. But without players, it is all just noise, at least until somebody else is the one calling the shots in basketball at the Garden.
It is up to Jackson to offer some real proof that the Knicks and the Garden and New York are still a desired destination for stars, in an NBA universe where even the commissioner talks about young players who more and more take their stars with them, and not always to the biggest markets and the most famous teams.
Always remember that before LaMarcus Aldridge signed with the Spurs as a free agent, he met with the Lakers. And what he reportedly heard in that meeting was about all the exciting opportunities and advantages of being in Los Angeles. Just not enough about basketball. So he ended up in San Antonio, and you know why? Because he wasn't looking for bright lights and big cities, even after leaving Portland. He wanted to go work for a stable operation and win.
Put it another way: The Knicks desperately need a young star like Kevin Durant, about to become a free agent. But Durant, just off the money he makes from Nike alone, doesn't need New York. Carmelo, when he was looking to get out of Denver, absolutely decided he wanted and needed New York; decided this was the best place for him to get his money, and get the Garden in the process. Somehow Anthony carried around old ideas about what that still meant in pro basketball. He took his talents to 33rd St., where they remain, stuck, as if stuck in Seventh Ave. traffic.
For the last time: When you still hear players talk about the "mecca of basketball" as if reciting something in front of the class, what in the world are they talking about in the modern NBA? Mecca of what? The Knicks have won one playoff series in the past 16 years. They have been a mecca of bad basketball, and an obsession with the media, and organizational dysfunction. Now, under Jackson, there is this detached loopiness from him, while we're told by members of his cult that he's a guy three or four steps ahead of the planet. What planet?
He has to show he can recruit. Knicks fans don't want Steve Mills, a holdover from failed regimes, to be the recruiter. That was something else that was supposed to be Phil's job. Sure, Hornacek is ten times the coach that either Derek Fisher was, or Rambis. But he will just be the next Knick coach to get fired if he doesn't get three or four — or more — really good players, and soon.
I love Porzingis, everybody loves this kid and all his upside. But at this point nobody knows for sure how much of a star he will ultimately be, or even the best way to use him?
Jackson is a great coach who doesn't coach anymore. He just hires and fires coaches now. And sometimes looks like a jockey, the world's tallest, without the horses.