Friday, April 13, 2018

Jeff Hornacek, Frank Vogel and Sacramento's end

The problem here is that Jeff Hornacek never really got to be the coach of the New York Knicks. He put in the work, he really showed up for games, it wasn’t enough. That was never his organization, now he’s just gonna be another guy on a slideshow.

The Orlando Magic were Frank Vogel’s team, by and by, none of them could shoot the right shots efficiently or defend as Harter intended, but the Magic players at least gave back to Vogel something that was familiar, and we certainly hope he enjoys that anonymity all over again. That was the space, you’ll recall, that turned Frank Vogel into one of the most impressive brains in basketball.

Both are gone and both were gone early, nobody on the Nuggets was even finished with their hangovers by the time word hit early Thursday, nobody wants to talk about the Knicks, nobody worries about the Magic. Both franchises gave the slip soon enough for possible candidates to re-think what may have looked good on paper on the flight in – it’s only April, the draft is a long way away.

Steve Kerr and Billy Donovan used this option to decline gigs with the Knicks and Magic in 2014 and 2007, denying Donovan perhaps his best chance at an NBA Finalist and Kerr the opportunity to re-learn, for the first time since grade school, all the nasty things a printed page can find to rhyme with “Steve.”

Donovan is a smart cookie. He may look like he’s left holding the cork in OKC these days but the man has enjoyed a run of NBA interest dating back to back when even Mike Miller was young, and it’s hard to argue with the Orlando he declined. Billy Donovan will never have to down two warm Diet Pepsis first thing in the morning just to feel right.

We know about Kerr, he gets the John Wooden treatment every time his not-Knicks dip below 110 points in a game, the Warriors only rankle when they act something less than legendary. Steve didn’t just pick VHS over Beta, he picked Apple Computers over Casablanca Records. Kerr chose a kind home in a green world over five guaranteed years on one of Jupiter’s rings (you only get two before you’re dropped).

One of the many problems with the Knicks is how oppressively obvious they are. They will trade for Jalen Rose, those Steve Francis rumors are true, Bargs, and yes of course it’s going to be Derek [your word] Fisher.

Jeff Hornacek was never obvious, outside of the cut he struck as an agreeable 6-4 dude that once had to sleep in the same aisle as Antoine Carr.

Fisher was obvious, same as Kerr, both annoyingly and accurately referred to during playing days as Phil Jacksons in short pants, as if Phil would ever allow for such a thing. Jackson still likes showing his ass, it makes him and us laugh.

Jeff Hornacek learned he could be a pro under Cotton Fitzsimmons. Cotton’s legend in Phoenix provided Jeff an entirely new line of thinking, you don’t always have to be right, before a brief turn under Doug Moe in Philly left Hornacek confused.

A trade to Utah changed that, somehow Jerry Sloan gave this twirling treasure the 6 AM kink that Jeff’s career needed. Otherwise we may have had another Brian Winters on our hands.

At no point during Phil Jackson’s many rub-ups against Hornacek and the Jazz was there any hint at a growing relationship, any connection greater than the same respect Jackson also saved for anyone that reminded him of a guy Red Holzman coulda found minutes for. By 2016, years after Kerr demurred, Hornacek was a reach – only dialed up when Phil failed to get Kurt Rambis gig, following Fisher’s flameout.

The policy line that came with his hire included something about Phil’s triangle offense meshing with the Wooden-treated, league-leading, golden goodness that Hornacek thrived in with Sloan, and that never made sense.

At its best the triangle runs with good spacing, movement and all basketball forms of penetration – hallmarks of any sound offense, from Iba to D’Antoni. It doesn’t mean that Jerry Sloan kinda played the triangle because the passing was good and pretty.

Asking Jeff Hornacek to fly in straight from summer to teach the New York Knicks an offense about nothing, a nebulous existence that runs without plays until either MJ or Bryant gets angry, that’s some bullshit. Jerry Sloan called plays after offensive rebounds.

Jeff Hornacek probably called a few of those this year, the game had his marks all over it. The Knicks were fun to watch for most of 2017-18 if you had no interest in any moment beyond Hornacek’s own, the team was exacting in its offensive approach and Trey Burke was often the beneficiary, and you saw just how much that benefitted all.

Hornacek earned that moment, mind you, it wasn’t his finest and it was clearly coming from the wrong place, but this was Hornacek’s year (to do whatever the hell he just did with it). If the Knicks didn’t have the juice in the fridge to let go of the guy in the same swoop that sent Phil away, then they deserved every bit of what they got sent back at them.  

I don’t know where the fans fit into all of this, but that’s a concern for another savior.

Frank Vogel was a quick fix, meant to prop up an administration, and dammit if he wasn’t the right coach for the job.

The Magic had no business winning 25 games this year, especially with a roster almost entirely made up of future head and assistant coaches, future Directors of Player Development, future grown men that should, seriously, leave this silly NBA racket behind upon retirement. Also still Nikola Vucevic.

The Magic want a coach that wasn’t hired by the last guy, a theme as old as this league, and Vogel was the final of three head coaches hired by former GM Rob Hennigan in a four-year burst. Frank impressed to no end once he was relieved of Elfrid Payton’s approach, but nobody needs an overachiever around when you’re stuck working the recipe out from scratch.

This place has begun with worse. Complications still linger from Dwight Howard’s inability to hold his own as a franchise leader, and the franchise’s inability to lead in response to everything they should have expected from Dwight Howard by that point.

That unwavering commitment to uncertainty, pitched through the 2011 lockout and throughout Stan Van Gundy’s final months in Florida, damned the Magic to a waste they’d never expected. This franchise waited for years in the beer line before finding out that they had to go get a wrist ID first. Now they’re back in the beer line, and this domestic shit still costs eleven bucks.

IT ENDS IN SACRAMENTO

The last hours of the NBA’s regular season went to sleep in California’s capital on Wednesday night, the end of a term that never seems to treat Sacramento the way it should. The Kings stunk again this year, Wednesday night’s win was just one of 27 in 2017-18, Houston even had to return R.J. Hunter for that to happen.

The first time I picked up on this vibe, this welcome vibe, was in 1999: TNT cut away from the final moments of Inside the NBA to pass a hit of the Kings securing a playoff berth over that year’s eight-win Vancouver Grizzlies.

Scoreboard only, audio-less save for Ernie Johnson’s narration, a feed as muted as that year’s Grizzlies:

Rookie Jason Williams missed all seven of his shots against the franchise that would deal Mike Bibby for him two years later, the Grizzlies Terry Dehere’d and Pete Chilcutted.  

Assured of a playoff berth a year later in the season’s final game in Utah, the Kings rested their starters and gave a nationally televised audience a hearty look at Bill Wennington’s final game as a pro. Bill was not making 2000’s postseason roster so he lined up for nine shots, making one. He fouled four times and pulled in ten rebounds. Just Billin.

Once again leaden with the burden of its excellence, the Kings were forced on the road for season-ending Wednesdays in 2001 and 2002 before returning home to topple the Jazz to split from 2002-03: John Stockton played on a team with Calbert Cheaney and DeShawn Stevenson played on a team with Mark Jackson and John Amaechi was also there. The Kings won.

Save for miscalculations in 2009 and 2016, the final seconds of the regular season are always Sacramento’s, somewhere in California.

Sacramento has won seven of 15 that I’m counting: Corliss Williamson probably has a big game off the bench, Greg Ostertag is now on the Kings somehow, Gawen DeAngelo “Bonzi” Wells (stock pictured above), then Ron Artest misses 10 of 11 shots but still leads the team with eight assists.

(There are heartstrings, too, Jerry Reynolds said “goodbye” on Wednesday and the NBA’s final outing in 2011 was nearly the last of Sacramento’s Kings.)

Kobe leads the opponents’ scoring trips with the top two marks, but both Jabari Brown and Raef LaFrentz tie for second at 32 points. DeMarcus Cousins muscled for a King-leading 35 points in 2013, pacing Sacramento for the most personal pans in these final outings, but second and third place belong to Marcus Thornton and Quincy Douby (for the first time in their NBA lives).

Clearly we’ve varying levels of interest in winning present in these final-night exhibits, and the Kings’ lineup often limits the amount of variance possible.

The Kings won in 1999, though, and they downed the Rockets on Wednesday even with Skal Labissiere in a jacket, working audio, the whole bit. The Kings are beyond scoreboard feeds, but sadly also below scoreboard watching. Not since 2006, the longest streak in the NBA.

We’re always going to look forward to this game, but it’d be a hell of a lot cooler if the stakes were real.

Like they were, like they always were, against Vancouver.

WANG DANG DOODLE

How’s this for working audio?

And with that band, goodness, that band: Hound Dog Taylor at easily his most buttons, Little Walter in one of his rare live clips, Koko Taylor delivering with a professional’s credibility. By 1967 she’d seen what this tune could do to audiences, big audiences, pop audiences.

(More to come.)