Before coaching his last game on Wednesday in Cleveland, Hornacek told reporters that he would “love to continue with these guys.”
“We didn’t think it was going to be a one-year turnaround,” Hornacek said.
He added: “You expect a rebuilding situation to go out there and win 50 games? That’s why they call it rebuilding. But when you mention rebuilding, you’re still trying to win games.”
But Hornacek will no longer lead that turnaround. He had one year left on his three-year, $15 million contract.
“Jeff is a true professional who has worked tirelessly for this organization the last two seasons,’’ Mills and Perry said in their statement. “We sincerely appreciate his efforts and considerable contributions to the team and wish him well in his future endeavors.”
The Knicks did not give a timeline for hiring a new coach. Two names that have surfaced as possible successors: Doc Rivers and Mark Jackson. Rivers — who played for the Knicks from 1992 to 1994 — is the coach of the Los Angeles Clippers. Jackson, who coached the Golden State Warriors from 2011 to 2014, played for the Knicks from 1987 to 1992 and again in 2001 and 2002.
Hornacek, 54, was hired to instill Jackson’s philosophies — namely, the triangle offense — and compete for a spot in the playoffs. Perry, who was hired last summer as Jackson’s replacement, kept him to maintain a level of continuity in hopes of retooling around Porzingis, the Knicks’ franchise player.
Before Christmas, the Knicks had a 16-14 record, and making the playoffs seemed feasible. At the time, Porzingis was averaging 24 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. But the Knicks began to struggle in early January, and Porzingis suffered a season-ending knee injury on Feb. 6 when the team was in the middle of an eight-game losing streak. New York’s focus shifted to maximizing its lottery odds.
If Hornacek entered the season in a difficult spot because Jackson had departed, his position became untenable once Porzingis was injured and New York began to slide. Since the end of January, the Knicks are 5-26 and Hornacek got into a physical altercation with Noah at a practice.
After the incident, Noah was kept away from the team for the rest of the season, but the tension recalled earlier locker room friction that had contributed to Hornacek’s departure as coach of the Phoenix Suns 46 games into the 2016 season.
Hornacek’s successor will need to build a more functional culture around a young core that features Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina and the team’s coming first-round draft pick.