Some coaches believe that you have to fit what you do to your personnel. Others have rigid systems, and need their players to acquiesce to those systems. Most coaches have something in the middle. Mike D’Antoni, for example, caters to his personnel ... as long as they buy into the basic principles his fast-pace system espouses.
But Phil Jackson, despite no longer being a coach, is not so open. Jackson wants the triangle run in New York. For him it’s not just about his belief in the system, but about proving that the principles of Tex Winter’s offense he adopted in Chicago and Los Angeles can work in any time, with any players, if they buy in. It’s a moral pursuit. To start the year, Jackson was open to the changes Jeff Hornacek installed which stretched the boundaries of how much the Knicks used the triangle. But since the All-Star break, Jackson has reinstalled demands about using the triangle, and that is what the Knicks are reportedly practicing.
As the season spirals further and further away from a team that was in the playoff race just two months ago, players are more and more frustrated with these moves back to what is seen as an antiquated system. Per ESPN:
Part of the confusion stems from the Knicks’ offense. Earlier in the season, coach Jeff Hornacek de-emphasized the triangle offense, preferring to play a more open offense that featured pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop options. Since the All-Star break, the Knicks have re-emphasized the triangle, which is Jackson’s preferred offense.
Jackson may eventually be able to find players who excel in -- and appreciate -- the triangle. But the majority of current Knicks aren’t comfortable in -- and don’t care for -- the offense, according to sources.
These players often point to the amount of midrange shots the offense produces (the Knicks lead the league in midrange attempts, per NBA.com) and the tight spacing, which makes it difficult to drive. They also question the amount of contested shots taken (New York ranks in the top 10 in contested 2-point field goals, per NBA.com).
Some Knicks also feel that the offense is easy to defend. Opposing players have told the Knicks that they can predict where they’ll be when running the triangle, and one Eastern Conference coach last season told friends that defending the triangle was one of the easiest assignments in the league because of that.
The return to the triangle is one reason why several veterans have started to lose faith in Hornacek recently, sources say.
Here’s a quick question. What current players actually espouse a love for the triangle? The guards that have played in it hate it, with a blinding passion. But no player comes out and says “the triangle is the best.” It’s only former players who won with it, or sycophants who worship at Jackson’s altar after his 11 rings. Those criticisms above? They’re legit, and they’re player-oriented. Players need to have confidence in what they’re running, and no one has any confidence in the Triangle.
Now, the Warriors and Spurs run elements of the triangle, along with maybe a dozen teams. They each have sets that incorporate principles of the triangle. But neither run it the way the Knicks do, and not with the oversight from Jackson.
There are a lot of things to point to as an example of why the Knicks a mess. Everything from Carmelo Anthony’s stagnant, still primitive decision making, to Kristaps Porzingis’ youth, to the poor defensive personnel they’ve assembled, and the schemes Kurt Rambis, who was tasked as the architect of the Knicks’ defense by Jackson, have contributed to their downfall this season. But it should be alarming for Knicks fans to discover (or have it confirmed that while the house is burning down around him, Phil Jackson is making sure the art on the wall are straight.
This has a wide range of impacts. It casts doubt and destabilizes Hornacek’s position as a coach. It hurts New York’s ability to offer free agents the basketball experience they want, and it stunts the growth they need in younger players. At some point, Jackson is going to have to give up the ghost of the triangle, or the Knicks are going to have to give up on Jackson.