New York Knicks: Why Jeff Hornacek is already losing his team

BROOKLYN, NY - OCTOBER 8: Willy Hernangomez
BROOKLYN, NY - OCTOBER 8: Willy Hernangomez /

It’s getting late early on for the New York Knicks and coach Jeff Hornacek. Questionable coaching decisions exacerbate an already unstable atmosphere.

An 0-2 start for the New York Knicks isn’t shocking, but it is still yet full of disappointment. Team expectations this season are low, but in the magnifying glass of New York City, struggle looks like catastrophe.

No doubt Jeff Hornacek‘s hands are full with multiple young players, an unbalanced roster and a horrible defense. However, he does have one of the best players in the NBA: Kristaps Porzingis. The performance by Porzingis in the team’s recent loss to the Pistons unveiled his ability to truly dominate an entire game.

Consequently, the relationship between Hornacek and Porzingis is the most important relationship in New York. If head coach and star player aren’t on the same page, it affects everything else surrounding the team.

Minus Porzingis, this Knicks team has a plethora of issues. From the struggles of Tim Hardaway Jr. to defensive inconsistency, a lot has gone wrong in the first two games. A dysfunctional offseason multiplied by questionable coaching decisions equals a coach in serious danger of losing his team.

Willy or won’t he

Even before the return of Joakim Noah, the Knicks had an overload of big men on the roster. Against the Detroit Pistons, both Enes Kanter and Kyle O’Quinn played and were very productive. Kanter had a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Likewise, O’Quinn added 15 points, seven rebounds, three assists and a steal.

Truth be told, the issues with this team are guards and wing players, not big men. However, when a player as talented as Willy Hernangomez plays zero minutes in two games, eyebrows raise.

Hernangomez and Porzingis are close friends and there is no doubt KP wants his buddy on the floor. Furthermore, the rocky road of this offseason cannot be overlooked. When the inevitable locker room dysfunction appears (like it always does), its catalyst will be traced back to Jeff Hornacek.

In late August, reports surfaced that Porzingis was angry with Hornacek, not Phil Jackson. Peter Vescey of Patreon revealed Hornacek sent a strongly worded message through Hernangomez to Porzingis. Details of the rift for non-Patreon subscribers were reported by Marc Berman of the NY Post. KP was angry about the message and it’s reasonable to think Willy was upset as well.

Last season, Hernangomez made the NBA’s All-Rookie team and meshed well with Porzingis. One season later, his team is much less talented but he isn’t playing. Even with Kanter and O’Quinn playing well, Willy must play, especially when the team’s star player wants him in the game. Porzingis made it clear that Willy “deserves” to play more, as reported by Barbara Barker of Newsday.

Vendetta or strategy?

The evidence is admittedly circumstantial, but aside from a personal vendetta, there is no reason to keep Willy on the New York Knicks’ bench. His scoring ability, athleticism and overall energy matches well with any other lineup the Knicks can produce. It is idiotic to think that Hornacek can’t find minutes for one of the most promising young players in the entire league.

Did someone in the Hernangomez/Porzingis circle leak the crude words of Hornacek to Vescey? If so, the only retribution the coach has is the sword of playing time. Unfortunately for Willy, that sword has been sharp and fast so far this season.

Whether or not this is the reason for a lack of Willy is up for debate. Yet, if Hornacek had an issue with KP, he should have delivered the message himself. The simple fact that a head coach didn’t have the fortitude to speak to his star player man-to-man is bad sign for his future. According to Marc Berman, Porzingis’ anger came from the following:

"“According to the report, Hornacek rode Porzingis hard last season, culminating when Hornacek told Hernangomez to tell Porzingis to “stop playing like a p—y.” Porzingis was offended, and it led to missing the exit interview and hurting his relationship with the first-year coach.”"

There is nothing wrong with a coach being hard on a young player and explicit language is nothing new in the NBA. However, Willy Hernangomez is a potential star, not a middle man for a disagreement between two men. Yes, this happened months ago and in many ways is old news. At the same time, it could very well explain the lack of playing time for Hernangomez.

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In professional sports, the locker room is the sanctuary and support system for players. Things like contention, confusion and mistrust destroy locker rooms and Jeff Hornacek is responsible for all three. Luckily, it’s early on for the New York Knicks, so there is plenty of time to heal whatever wounds do exist.