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Hornacek makes basketball fun again for the Knicks

JAIME C. HARRIS | 11/23/2017, midnight
Last season was one of toil and discontent for the Knicks players and coaching staff. They went 31-51 and were ...
Jeff Hornack Bill Moore photo

Last season was one of toil and discontent for the Knicks players and coaching staff. They went 31-51 and were subjected to former team president Phil Jackson’s divisive and counter-productive tactics. He compelled head coach Jeff Hornacek to force-feed his players the triangle offense, which they unsuccessfully executed, and frequently unleashed nuanced verbal jabs at Carmelo Anthony, which ultimately scarred the collective psyche of the team and disrupted its chemistry.

Jackson and Anthony are now gone, the former currently on an NBA hiatus and the latter the third leading scorer for the Oklahoma City Thunder, averaging 20 points per game when they faced the Golden State Warriors last night (Wednesday). Although this season is only 17 games in for the Knicks, the unit that new team president Steve Mills and first-year general manager Scott Perry have constructed is demonstrably more symbiotic under the direction of Hornacek.

The Knicks were 9-7 before facing the Toronto Raptors at Madison Square Garden last night. Their record and performance have been two of the league’s more unexpected developments as many ardent basketball observers—this writer included—forecast another season of on-court hardship before its start. However, the Knicks have shown cohesiveness and an enjoyment for the game that by the late stages of last season were evidently non-existent.

There are several factors for the shift in the team’s attitude and approach, which is palpable in their locker room, including the reshaping of the roster. Hornacek has also been a significant element of change, maybe the most consequential catalyst, as he no longer has the large and overly intrusive presence of Jackson to consider.

“We’re working on our game, trying to be consistent with our effort every night…being focused in,” Hornacek said following the Knicks’ 107-85 win over the Los Angeles Clippers at MSG Monday night. Those characteristics have been less arduous for him to instill as the setting is more stable this season.

“I’m just having more fun than I’ve ever had with this team,” said forward Doug McDermott after coming off the bench to score 16 points in 30 minutes against the Clippers. McDermott was acquired along with center Enes Kanter in the September trade that sent Anthony to the Thunder.

“I can’t explain it,” he expounded. “It’s just a very unselfish group. Great young team. I haven’t been a part of a team like this since I’ve been in the league. So it makes going to work fun every day.” The 6-foot-8 McDermott, the 2014 National College Player of the Year at Creighton, was the 11th overall pick in the 2014 draft and spent two and a half seasons with the Chicago Bulls before being traded to the Thunder during the 2016-17 season.

McDermott’s sentiments have been shared by several of his teammates. The Knicks have a little under five more months of regular season basketball left. Although feelings and results are subject to take dramatic turns, they are hopeful the first two months foreshadow a promising future.