Jeff Hornacek makes his pitch to return to the Knicks

CLEVELAND – Jeff Hornacek plans to discuss his future with the Knicks front office on Thursday – a day after the completion of a second disappointing season – but until that fateful meeting he’s operating under the assumption that he’ll be returning for the final year of his contract.

“That’s why you sign contracts. I have one more year,” said the coach. “We’d love to continue with these guys and get some of the guys healthy and get back at it and continue that process. We didn’t think it was going to be a one-year turnaround. That’s our thoughts. That’s what we’ll continue to look at.”

Unlike ex-Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, Hornacek did not launch into a staunch defense of his work the day before he might get fired. Instead, he mostly stuck to his public persona – calm, measured and guarded.

But he did make a pitch to return while asking for patience.

“Obviously we started it and we’d like to continue it,” Hornacek said. “It’s very satisfying for coaches to take a team and build it and grow it. You can look around the league at some of the teams that are now some of the better teams in the league. They went through those same type of things. … Now all of a sudden have their teams four or five years later and maybe even home court advantage for the playoffs. So sometimes people are wanting things to happen right away. But sometimes there’s patience. That’s what we’re looking for.”

Head coaches rarely work on expiring contracts because it undermines their authority in the eyes of players. They’re either given extensions or fired. The Knicks front office of Steve Mills and Scott Perry and have remained silent publicly while Hornacek has twisted in the wind, giving further credence to the idea that the coach won’t return.

Hear me out! Jeff Hornacek, with one year left on his deal, wants to convince Knicks brass to stick with him and his rebuilding plan.

Hear me out! Jeff Hornacek, with one year left on his deal, wants to convince Knicks brass to stick with him and his rebuilding plan.

(Bill Kostroun/AP)

Perry, Mills and Craig Robinson are holding their exit meetings with players and coaches on Thursday. Hornacek said he didn’t know when he’d be scheduled, but last year – under Phil Jackson — he participated in the exit interview with players.

If Hornacek is getting fired, it’d be a waste of time – and insulting to everybody involved – to have him go over offseason plans and expectations with players.

“I plan on (being at the exit meetings),” Hornacek said. “No one told me no.”

Hornacek is 59-104 with the Knicks heading into the season finale Wednesday in Cleveland. And while last season the team was supposed to contend for the playoffs, the expectations for this season were always very low.

“It’s what you expect. You can’t expect a rebuilding situation and go out there and win 50 games. That’s why they call it rebuilding,” Hornacek said. “But when you mention rebuilding you’re still trying to win games. Do the little things, teach these guys. Coaches who have been in the league, been on good teams, bad teams, I think the guys have done a great job of sticking together continuing to play. It’s easy to get down when you know you’re not making the playoffs and you’re out of it. These guys haven’t. They want to get better. It may not set you up for this year but you lay the foundation and continue to work at it. At some point it’s going to blossom. That’s the hope you keep working at it and all of a sudden it pops.”

Jeff Hornacek argues the loss of Kristaps Porginzis crushed the Knicks on both ends of the court.

Jeff Hornacek argues the loss of Kristaps Porginzis crushed the Knicks on both ends of the court.

(Frank Franklin II/AP)

Perry and Mills said they would not judge Hornacek on his record, but rather whether the team played hard and improved on defense. That’s been a mixed bag, with both falling apart following a surprising 17-13 start to the season.

Hornacek blamed the recent defensive struggles on Kristaps Porzingis’ injury.

“We look at KP as one of our offensive anchors but he’s also one of our defensive anchors. And I think at the beginning of the year we were ranked 15 when he was out there,” Hornacek said. “So sometimes when you miss a guy that’s a rim protector like that it has an effect. Sure we’d like to get better at it. But I think some of our guys have gotten better and picked up on things we need to do.”

Even if the front office doesn’t want him, Hornacek sounds like he wants to return.

“I think moving forward at least we have what we’re going to do in place. Guys get more familiar with it. Chemistry-wise when guys come in, it’s not spending half a year trying to get all the basics in there. We did add guys midseason which also makes it a little more difficult because on those guys, they haven’t had the training camp. So all of a sudden you’re putting back in plays and having to the time to do that. The more you can keep the team together with the same style, the more you can go through all the little things and the nuances they pick up on. So again, that’s where that process comes in.”

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