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See Ya Hornacek: The Knicks Need To Make Jay Wright Their Next Head Coach

(Courtesy: New York Daily News)

The “Jeff Hornacek Experience” has been nothing short of a disaster for the Knicks. If JVG isn’t leaving the booth, it’s time to get Jay Wright.

I think it’s fair to say that these past two seasons for the New York Knicks have been nothing short of a complete disaster.

To be fair, not all of the blame can be put on head coach Jeff Hornacek. In his first season under Phil Jackson, Hornacek was essentially forced to run the outdated triangle offense with a team that didn’t feature a Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. Free pass.

This season, however, which started very promisingly for the Knicks at 14-10, quickly spiraled out of control. Even prior to the Knicks losing first-time All-Star Kristaps Porzingis to a torn ACL, the team was barely treading above the .500 mark and couldn’t sniff a win on the road. Not to forget to mention, among all the losing, Hornacek still refused to showcase much of any of rookie Frank Ntilikina and guard Trey Burke (until most recently, with fewer than 10 games to go in the season).

Heading into the season, eyebrows were already raised with regards to Hornacek’s relationship with Porzingis after he skipped out on his exit interview at the end of last season. It turns out, towards the end of last season, the two got into a cursing war and had to be separated after a practice. 

And it wasn’t just Porzingis who has had issues with Hornacek. In January, overpaid center Joakim Noah decided it was in his best interest to take a leave of absence from the team after getting into a shoving match with the coach during practice. Most recently on March 23 against the Minnesota Timberwolves, things got chippy with forward Kyle O’Quinn and the two were seen screaming at each other on the bench. 

It should be obvious that the front office regime led by Steve Mills and Scott Perry will show Hornacek the door in just a few weeks. Assuming they do, they need to start their search process with Villanova University head coach, Jay Wright. 

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(Courtesy: Elite Sports NY)

Since 2001, Jay Wright has been tasked with bringing Villanova back to the glory days the program had in the 1980s under famed head coach Rollie Massimino. Known for his fashionable style and charm, Wright is way more than that. Sporting a 420-167 record, and having gone a jaw-dropping 163-21 since the inception of the “New Big East” in 2013, Wright is a proven winner.

In 2015-16, he finally helped bring back the highly coveted National Championship to Nova and finds his Wildcats back in the Final Four this weekend in a date against Kansas. For years prior to landing Brett Brown, the Philadelphia 76ers coveted Wright, but he refused to entertain any offer because his job wasn’t done. If Villanova wins the National Championship again this season, the second in three years, it has to beg the question: what else is there for Wright to accomplish at Villanova? Even if the Wildcats lose, it’ll be yet another Final Four appearance. It may be time for Wright to look for another challenge, and the position of Knicks head coach certainly fits that bill. 

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(Courtesy: Getty Images)

As for his coaching ideologies, his philosophy on both sides of the ball could really be helpful to the Knicks’ young core of players: Frank Ntilikina, Kristaps Porzingis, and whomever they decide to draft with their lottery pick in the upcoming June draft. Villanova runs a 4 out 1 in motion offense, which requires constant floor spacing and really helps players develop a high basketball IQ. The offense is known to be as simple or as complex as a coach wants to run it, and can adjust to many teams’ talents. 

For the Knicks, who were near the basement in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage and attempts, it allows them to focus on curling off back screens and cuts to the rim, as well as open up driving lanes for their young guards. It can also be adjusted to focus on flare and on-ball screens if the Knicks do draft a player known for their three-point prowess (Villanova guard Mikal Bridges, for example). Over the years, Villanova nearly perfected this motion offense, and it became nearly impossible for other teams to defend (the Wildcats led the NCAA in scoring this season with 86.6 points per game, nearly two more points than Oklahoma, who scored 84.9 points, the second most per game).  

While their offense gets all the attention, Villanova is pretty stout on defense is well, and it’s actually been their defense that has carried them to the Final Four this season. In their Elite Eight game against Texas Tech, Villanova shot a poor 37% from the field, but this didn’t stop them from holding the Red Raiders to 33.3%. Wright’s man defense (perfect for the NBA, not like the Syracuse Zone that does not translate at the next level), focuses on rotating well, recovering quickly, and constant communication. Rebounding and holding opponents to one shot is also vital to his defense. With Ntilikina already so versed defensively, having him as an anchor for the Knicks in Wright’s system could help the organization get the most out of him. 


It is worth noting that Jay Wright’s ties to New York go beyond the Big East Tournament, which is held at Madison Square Garden each March prior to the NCAA Tournament. From 1994-2001, Wright was the head coach of the Hofstra University men’s basketball team on Long Island and took the program to new heights. The Pride won the American East Conference in 2000 and 2001, and from 1999-2001 went 72-22 with two NCAA Tournament appearances. In a phone interview prior to the start of this season, Wright said of Hofstra, “of all the stories we tell and coaching the Final Fours, the national championship, still the best stories are from the years at Hofstra, it’s all Hofstra stories.’’ Returning to New York on the biggest stage would bring things full circle for Wright, which could be intriguing to him.

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(Courtesy: New York Daily News)

Lastly, and not to be understated especially in New York, there will always be the question of how will Jay Wright handle the media. It’s not a secret that in New York, the media can be your best friend, or your worst enemy (likely the latter). Many coaches in all the professional sports have gone through New York, few surviving the media circus (cc former New York Giants head coach Ben McAdoo).

For Wright, this does not figure to be any sort of issue. Wright gave a little hint of this at Villanova, when he became very close with Mike Francesa and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, two of the most highly regarded media figures in New York. Wright remains very close with Francesa to this day (he was a guest a Francesa’s farewell event in November on Long Island), and while he is no longer dominating the WFAN airways, he figures to have a new medium in the near future that will likely be very, very popular. Francesa has been known to captivate his audience and help shape opinions in the New York landscape, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt Wright in the least to know that he has Francesa by his side. As for the beat writers on the day to day basis, Wright should have no issue on that front.  

Regardless of how this Final Four turns out for Jay Wright’s Wildcats, it would be incredibly wise for the Knicks to go out full force for his services. His coaching style and relationship with his players (they don’t always love him, but he knows how to get the best out of them; Kyle Lowry attributes Wright for helping shape him into the player he is today with his hard work ethic) make him the perfect fit for a franchise with centered around young talent. The question really becomes whether he would he be willing to leave his almost perfect situation, his home, for the bright lights of New York. Time will tell, but the choice for the Knicks is clear.


Sources: Basketball For Coaches, Basketball Reference

Edited by Emily Berman.

SQuiz
Which of these NBA players did Jay Wright not coach?
Created 3/27/18
  1. Speedy Claxton
  2. Kyle Lowry
  3. Josh Hart
  4. Dennis Smith Jr.

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