Jeff Hornacek looked very comfortable at his introductory news conference Friday, smiling frequently, joking about the triangle offense and touting the greatness of Carmelo Anthony and potential greatness of Kristaps Porzingis.
Sitting to Hornacek’s right was Knicks president Phil Jackson, who appeared less comfortable. This was an important day for Jackson and the Knicks. They haven’t made the playoffs the past three years, including the two full seasons under Jackson’s presidency. He is entrusting Hornacek to change that.
Hornacek is the third coach Jackson has appointed since taking over the Knicks, but Jackson doesn’t see it that way. He considers Hornacek his second after Derek Fisher. Kurt Rambis, to Jackson, was the stopgap.
“Who’s counting?” Jackson said. “We really had one other head coach. Kurt was an interim coach and he served that well.
“You hope to have a guy that comes in and has success and continues for a duration of time. So I don’t know if that is harder or getting players is harder, which part of the job is harder. Sometimes it is keeping our cafeteria open and getting good food on the table. That’s a hard job. But here we are. We are doing what we have to do to move forward, and that is the important part.”
Hornacek, who went 101-112 as coach of the Suns, represents another move forward for the Knicks. But for those counting, he’s the Knicks’ fifth coach in six years. At this point, stability is the most important thing for the Knicks. It was something Jackson, an 11-time champion as a head coach, was supposed to provide, but it hasn’t happened yet.
The Knicks, 49-115 in the Jackson era, have undergone a couple of facelifts. Anthony is the only player left from the team he inherited in March 2014. He has brought in 22 different players since being hired and will change up the roster again this offseason.
“The team that was featured here three years ago, although they had come from a rather decent year four seasons ago, where they did win  games, they had a collection of older players, veteran players,” Jackson said. “We started all over again. We cleaned our roster. We gathered money and space and changed the context of what this team is.
“So this is a coach that can teach and also has an idea of what kind of practice he wants to run and how he wants to do business.”
Hornacek was a smart player who was on teams that had success playing different styles. He played up-tempo and scored in transition with the Suns and was a big part of one of the best half-court offenses with the Jazz.
Hornacek hopes to combine both with the Knicks — within the principles of the triangle offense. He joked that they will call it the “circle offense” because of all the criticism it’s received.
As currently constituted, the Knicks don’t have the backcourt flexibility Hornacek had when he coached the Suns. They went 48-34 with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe in the backcourt in 2013-14. That offseason they added future All-Star Isaiah Thomas but traded him and Dragic away.
Those personnel decisions contributed to Hornacek’s firing. Now Jackson and general manager Steve Mills need to make smart personnel decisions for Hornacek to succeed.
The biggest area of need is the backcourt. The Knicks need better guards if they’re going to run more, as Hornacek promises.
Hornacek said he would like to add a point guard in his prime to balance 34-year-old Jose Calderon and second-year guard Jerian Grant. Mike Conley Jr. will be a free agent and Jeff Teague and Darren Collison could become available through trades.
“I’d like to find a nice blend of up-and-down basketball and then with the half-court, we can execute and get into things maybe a little bit quicker,” Hornacek said. “I think a little bit bigger dose of [pick-and-rolls] can help us out of the right situations. I don’t think it’s a necessity that you have to run it as much as a lot of teams do.”
The Knicks have players who can flourish in pick-and-roll action, including Anthony, Porzingis and Grant. Hornacek already said he doesn’t see why Porzingis can’t be “a top-five player” or even “the best player in the league.” He plans to use the 7-3 Porzingis a number of ways.
“In our offense, you can see him in some high pick-and-rolls, out of the sets we have, fading for threes,” Hornacek said. “I still believe you can get him on the post. If a team wants to play him with a small guy and get into him, then you can throw him down there and take advantage of his height from there.
“He’s still 20. To have a guy at 20 years old and see what he can do already, there are going to be high expectations. We are going to help to push him to get to those levels. The rest of the guys in this league really come into their own at the 24-, 25-, 26-year-old range. He has such a great future that it is going to be off the charts for him.”
Drafting Porzingis is one of Jackson’s moves that looks brilliant. Hiring Hornacek could prove to be another good one.