With Phil Jackson out as Knicks’ president of basketball operations, the Triangle Offense is packed up with him.
Jackson spent three years trying to implement the offense he used to win 11 championships with the Bulls and the Lakers. It failed miserably, with the Knicks missing the playoffs each season and posting a franchise-worst 17-65 record two years ago.
The Zen Master was unable to sell the Triangle to his players. Derrick Rose called it random basketball. Carmelo Anthony insisted reporters stop using the word “triangle.” Brandon Jennings often sat by his locker in disbelief as the losses compounded. For a group as talented on paper as the Knicks were, the season slipped beyond repair.
This summer, Jackson wouldn’t relent. He let everyone know the Knicks would be acquiring talent this summer that exclusively fit his famed offense. That’s why he drafted French guard Frank Ntilikina over two popular, homegrown prospects in Dennis Smith Jr. and Malik Monk
Instead of implementing a system malleable to his players’ talents or giving Jeff Hornacek the freedom to run his own offense, he forced the team to run an offense many players consider outdated.
The result was an 80-166 record under Jackson’s lead, cycling through three head coaches (Mike Woodson, Derek Fisher, Kurt Rambis) with its fourth hanging onto the job by a thread.
But with Jackson out of town and the coast clear, Hornacek could revert back to the offense he intended to run when he first joined the Knicks as coach last summer. And if the Knicks’ early season success serves as any indication of what’s to come should Hornacek retain his job, New York could return to a faster-paced offense next season.
At their best, the Knicks were 14-10 mid-December. They were getting up the floor, playing with tempo and running their offense through a series of high screen-and-rolls that often confused opposing defenses.
That attack began with Derrick Rose, who attacked relentlessly — sometimes to a fault — putting the pressure on the defense early and often. Sometimes, he drove to the rim. Other times, he found the open man, albeit a moment too late. As a result, he rebounded with a season posting 18 points and 4.4 assists before a minor meniscus tear cut his year short.
New York never had a chance to perfect its offense. Jackson stepped in well before that.
By March, the Knicks were running the Triangle exclusively. Gone were the high pick-and-rolls. Instead, Rose began passing to the post and relegating himself to the corner. As the losses compounded, Melo seemed to check out. The season ended with the Knicks’ reserves outplaying the starters because they understood the offense better and competed harder for scarce minutes.
After his March 17 game against the Brooklyn Nets, the uber-athletic wing and ex-Slam Dunk champion told SB Nation he and Hornacek saw eye-to-eye during his time with the Suns. He felt they could have turned into one of the better teams in the West had they kept the group together.
Hornacek was later fired in favor of now-head coach Earl Watson, but Green still felt his old coach was a solid basketball mind who needed an opportunity to showcase his offensive sets.
“I kinda think that if the organization just trusts his thinking ability and his coaching schemes, I really think that they’ll be a good team in the future,” he told SB Nation.
It remains unclear if the Knicks will retain Hornacek next season. He’s currently coaching New York’s Orlando Summer League squad, but the only constant in New York is owner James Dolan’s unpredictability.
Hornacek’s on contract to coach the Knicks for another two seasons, but Dolan could fire him in favor of a player’s coach like Mark Jackson or Jeff Van Gundy. If he keeps Hornacek around, though, the Knicks’ coach will finally get an opportunity, unimpeded, to run the system he’s wanted to.
And if New York’s promising start before crumbling midseason is worth anything, Hornacek may have earned himself one last go-round next season.