Eddie Johnson says he is going to pray for Jeff Hornacek.
Johnson believes his former Phoenix Suns teammate is well-equipped to coach the Knicks because of his personality and “pedigree.” Hornacek, a former Suns coach, played for Cotton Fitzsimmons and Jerry Sloan and spent part of a season as Sloan’s assistant.
But Johnson knows that New York can be tough on coaches. One of Johnson’s best friends is former Knicks coach Mike Woodson, who was fired by Phil Jackson one season after winning 54 games.
“It’s not an easy place to coach,” Johnson said during a phone interview. “That’s the part that’s going to surprise Jeff. I don’t think anybody realizes how intense it is until you’re actually in it. I had an opportunity to experience it through Mike Woodson. I saw how he had to navigate it. It’s not easy. I’m going to pray for him.”
A deal between the Knicks and Hornacek has not been announced, but the two sides have begun contract negotiations and they are progressing, a league source said
Johnson, who played 18 NBA seasons, has a unique perspective on Hornacek. He played with him when Hornacek was a rookie and saw him grow as a player. Johnson, the Suns’ TV analyst, also saw Hornacek grow as a first-time head coach in Phoenix.
Hornacek guided the Suns to a 48-34 mark in 2013-14 when “no one thought they could win 20 that particular year,” according to Johnson, who is also a SiriusXM NBA Radio host.
Hornacek utilized two point guards and played small and fast. Phoenix was a high-volume three-point shooting team. Since Jackson became president, the Knicks have gone with a more conventional lineup and played the half-court-oriented triangle offense.
Johnson said Hornacek will play to his personnel. Johnson suspects Hornacek will turn to the Utah Jazz playbook — Sloan’s bread-and-butter was the pick-and-roll with John Stockton and Karl Malone — and utilize the strengths of Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis.
“I would imagine there would be a lot of Utah Jazz stuff,” Johnson said. “Maybe that’s why Phil Jackson was enamored with him because of what Utah did. Their offense was not the triangle, but it was very similar. It was focused on moving the ball and moving bodies but eventually getting the ball to the right guy.
“I could see a little bit of that when you have Carmelo with his ability to post up, and then with Porzingis, his ability to stretch the floor, involve him in two-man games where he can pick-and-pop and do some things. They have two major weapons to work with.”
Johnson expects Hornacek to sit down with Anthony and Porzingis and discuss how they feel comfortable playing.
“Those are the two guys that are going to make up the bulk of his offense, so he’s got to make sure that they’re happy with what he wants to run and that he can make it work,” Johnson said. “But he has the brains to do it.’’
There have been reports and speculation that the Knicks might scrap the triangle offense altogether, but that’s hard to believe, given Jackson’s affinity for it.
Former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy told SiriusXM NBA Radio that Hornacek is “not going to be required to run the triangle.” But Johnson expects Hornacek to include principles of Jackson’s favorite system in whatever he runs.
“He’s looking at a guy that’s won 11 championships,” Johnson said, referring to Jackson. “I know everybody’s saying it’s a new age now and it’s old and teams don’t run it. That guy won with it. He got stars to commit to it. I’m sure he’ll have some respect there and have some plays that involve that as well as wanting to push the ball and be an equal-opportunity team in the open court.”
Hornacek was 101-112 in 2 ½ seasons with Phoenix. Some unfavorable trades and injuries to key players led to Phoenix going 14-35 before Hornacek was fired this past February. But Johnson said Hornacek did everything he could and that his resume will help him navigate coaching in New York.
“There wasn’t too much more he could have done that could make it work,” Johnson said. “He unfortunately lost his job. But he resurrected himself in the most intense place you ever can.
“Jeff understands the game, he knows the game. He was a tremendous teammate, extremely cerebral, and given the chance, he can help them. He had success in Utah and he knows how to play without the ball. I think it’s a great teaching point.
“They’ll be able to respect him based on what he’s done as a player and I think they can respect him based on what he did as a coach his first year. He has a lot of stuff he’s bringing with him that people can respect right away.”