NY POST: Q&A -- Hornacek on Porzingis, inner peace and resurrecting Knicks
BY STEVE SERVY, NEW YORK POST
Before training camp tips off, Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek took a timeout for some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.
Q: Is Kristaps Porzingis ready to be “The Man”?
A: I think back at Kobe Bryant, and we played them in the playoffs, and big part of the game, and he must have been a rookie, and he came down and took two shots from the elbow, kind of turnaround, typical Kobe Bryant, but he was young. He shot two air balls, and we win the game. But from that point on, you said: “OK, that kid’s gonna be good,” because he had no qualms about taking that shot. And that’s the development that KP is probably ready to go into, and to be that. I would never put that on a guy at this point to say, “Hey, you’re ‘The Guy.’ ” But you want him to have opportunities to grow into that.
Q: What Porzingis’ upside?
A: They always say it in this league, that bigger guys take a little bit longer for the game to slow down. I even think watching the EuroBasket, the game looks like it’s slowing down for him. That next step in his career, when that game slows down, it’s gonna be easy for him. You’re not rushing shots, and that’s when you can grow into these roles that you become these great players.
Q: Describe point guard Jarrett Jack.
A: He’s a veteran guy who’s been in playoffs, he’s tough-minded, and he’s a talker out there, he’s a leader. He’s out there kind of giving guys hints what to do. He’s pushing guys when he thinks they should get back on defense. So it’s a voice that we need on this team to help out.
Q: Guard Tim Hardaway Jr.
A: He can really shoot the ball. I love his activity where he moves and cuts without the ball. We’re gonna challenge him to continue his improvement on defense and to have to guard guys. He can play the 2, he can play the 3, there might be situations late game maybe he even plays the 1. … That would probably rarely happen, but he’s a guy that we’re counting on to do the things we want to do in this offense and get the speed, and he’s a young guy with a lot of motor.
Q: Center Willy Hernangomez.
A: He made great strides last year. I think even from the start of the season we said, “This kid’s pretty good.” He knows how to play the game. That’s probably the hardest thing for coaches is to teach guys how to play the game. Because you can put ’em in all these situations and show ’em, but then when that speed of the game happens and it’s an instinct and they’re not in the same exact position, it’s your reactions. So Billy has that.
Q: Shooting guard Ron Baker.
A: He’s just that … not flashy guy. But he’s what we want to establish here with this team. We want a toughness. We want a defensive mentality. We want a guy who’ll dive on the ground and get after it. And he’s got the size, he’s strong. He’s got long arms. He’s another guy that knows how to play basketball.
Q: General manager Scott Perry.
A: One thing I love, he’s a basketball guy who’s mentality is, you heard him say it [Friday], “I want to get pros here.” Guys that understand what it takes to be a winning player.
Q: How much do you hate to lose?
A: I hate to lose, simple as that (laugh). That’s funny, ’cause the questions we always asked players: “Do you love to win or hate to lose?” You come across guys, they’re like, “Kind of both.” And then a guy like Kemba Walker, I love Kemba, and he goes, “I hate to lose,” and you can see it in his face. And I think you understand that you’re a guy that hates to lose when, if you do win … you’re not even all that excited (laugh). You go, “Well that’s what you’re supposed to do,” and then you go on to the next game. I like that mentality, probably again ’cause that was me. ’Cause then, when you hate to lose, you try to do whatever you can to try to win. The danger is to not let that seep in from one game to the next. You can’t dwell on it.
Q: What would it mean to you to resurrect this franchise?
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A: I never won a championship as a player. But you see the process, we can all be proud of our accomplishments at Utah getting to The Finals. Even our journey in Phoenix, when we went from winning 28 games [1987-88] to 55 games in one season. The process that you go through to get to that level is better than when you get there. When [the Jazz] got to  The Finals, I don’t know if it was anti-climactic, but we’d been striving for that — Karl [Malone], John [Stockton], myself — we’d all been in the league for 10, 12 years. That was the goal, so we finally got there. So we took great pride in that. That’s what we’re trying to do here in New York. There’d be nothing better than to get this team going, to get the excitement here of a winning thing, and except for a couple of years, it’s been a while here.
Q: Is there extra pressure coaching in New York?
A: I don’t know if there’s extra pressure. There’s probably extra things you have to deal with (chuckle). You just go out there and do the best you can, there should be no pressure. The pressure comes from the outside.
Q: You’re a laid back guy, but you’re driven too.
A: I wouldn’t say I was a perfectionist at all, but what I look for, probably because I played that way, is just laying it all out there. No one likes to say 110 percent, ’cause 100 percent is the max, but I’ve always gone, but OK, I thought I gave 100 percent, but I’m gonna do more. That’s how I survived in the league, and maybe that’s what I had to do ’cause I wasn’t that great athlete. But the guys that reach the pinnacle in this league are the guys that have that attitude and they have the talent.
Q: What drives you now?
A: Same thing. You keep pushing and pushing, and hopefully the guys … as a coach, you’re trying to put guys in good positions, but you’re also trying to push them a little farther. Because I don’t know how many guys — there’s probably not many — that really reach their potential. As coaches, that’s what you’re trying to do, trying to push them as close as you can to that possibility.
Q: There’s more to you than meets the eye. You come across as a nice guy.
A: I’m not (laugh). That’s why I would have loved to play in New York City. I think that’s what the fans want. They want guys that are gonna fight, put everything out there and scrap and claw, and win or lose. That’s what I think these fans appreciate. And that’s what we want to try to get going here.
Q: So there is more to you than meets the eye.
A: I think they would have liked me if I played here. Now I just gotta get ’em to like me as a coach here (smile).
Q: Is there any player who reminded or reminds you of you?
A: I think right now with Ron Baker there’s a lot of similarities, with coming in from the Midwest, just playing hard, playing tough … goofy haircuts (laugh).
Q: You had a goofy haircut?
A: Oh, hell yeah. I still do (smile).
Q: How would you describe what it’s like being head coach of the New York Knicks?
A: It’s a great thrill. This place has always been a dream that I thought maybe some day I would play at.
Q: There were rumors the 76ers were trading you to the Knicks before you ended up in Utah [in 1994]. You would have welcomed that at that time?
A: Oh, absolutely. That’s what I try to explain to our players here, is that there’s nothing like playing in Madison Square Garden. So every time you go out there, you gotta remember the other team is jacked up to play. You got all the celebrities in the front rows, it’s the iconic arena in the league, that it’s a different atmosphere when these guys come to play, and then you gotta know that as a player. So I think about all the times I came here as a visitor, and I played out in the West most of the time, so it was only once a year. But I think we were pretty successful when we came here in our game (laugh). Coming here as a coach, and to be a part of that, but to also understand that it’s been a while since they’ve really won, and we’re just trying to get that excitement back and getting the city behind us again, and we think we can get there.
Q: You would have played for Pat Riley.
A: I woulda been excited to play for him.
Q: When you played, you had no lateral meniscus. A lot of bone on bone. For how many years?
A: Pretty much my last eight, that’s what the doctors said.
Q: How did you survive and thrive?
A: Just battled through. My knee would swell up, and I had a few surgeries after that to clean things out as time went on. [Utah Coach] Jerry Sloan was a guy who had knee issues in his career, and he understood that. My last three or four years, he’d tell me, “Don’t do anything all summer. Just come to training. I know you know how to get in shape in three weeks.”
Q: You would hobble to the parking lot after games.
A: I was never a guy that was dunking the ball anyway, so what’s the difference if I jump 6 inches or 3 inches? It didn’t matter (chuckle). The biggest effect it had on me was I was a guy who liked to shoot those runners, and to try to plant on my left leg and get the explosion off that as the years went on made it tougher. But, again, that’s just something you adjust to.
Q: You were described once this way: “He has inner peace.” Where does that inner peace come from?
A: It’s probably just the fact that I know that I’ve given my best at all times. Jerry Sloan imparted that on us. He basically said after every game, if you can look yourself in the mirror, and tell yourself you did everything you can — you’re gonna do some right things, you’re gonna do some wrong things — but if you put it all out there, then whatever happened in a game happened.
Q: The league is more 3-point heavy than ever. You were a shooter as a player. Do you like the new NBA?
A: Well, I think there’s different ways to look at the game. I was on a team in Utah [1994-2000] that was all about execution. It was a lot of fun. I was on a team in Phoenix [1986-92] that was about getting out in the court. Back then, we didn’t shoot a lot of 3s, but we were running and flying around and passing to each other and sharing the ball. We scored 119 points a game, and we only probably made three or four 3s a game at that point. So it’s different ways to get your points. I think the emphasis on the 3-pointer now is because at some point guys weren’t making that 15-, 18-foot shot. Back in the day, when you got an open 15-, 18-footer, guys made it 65 percent of the time. Now, if guys are shooting under 50 percent from those areas when they’re open, hey you might as well shoot 3s, and get the value. I would have liked to play in today’s game with the rules, especially where you can’t touch anybody. But it’s basketball. The older guys felt they could play any style, the younger guys feel they can probably play any style. But today’s game, this is what they grow up with. They grow up with this style, and that’s what they’re used to. You gotta adjust to that, and let them use their strengths.
Q: What do you enjoy about living in New York City?
A: I don’t mind the hustle-bustle (laugh). I like the fact that at any time you can just go out and get something to eat, go to the store. … My wife and I have walked around Central Park quite a bit since we’ve been back this summer. We’re in the big city, but I think by where we’re at, it doesn’t seem like it.
Q: Why is that?
A: To me when you think of New York and you’re not from here, you think of the Times Square area and how crazy it is there. Is it busy? Yes. Comparing the areas, it’s not too bad (laugh).
Q: I’m sure you’re recognized when you walk around.
A: A little bit.
Q: What do people say to you and how do you feel about that?
A: Fans here are great. They’re very supportive. A lot of times just “Hey, Coach,” as they’re walking by. They see you around, you just kind of become one of the people in the neighborhood. It’s a lot of fun being out here. It’ll be better when we start winning.
Q: Your daughter Abby works in sports media. Has she interviewed you?
A: Yes. She works for a company called Stadium in Chicago, and I’ve been down there a couple of times, and been on air with them kind of talking about the season and stuff. She does a great job. I’m very proud of her. She just turned 23, to be doing some of the things that she does. And her knowledge of sports for being a 23-year-old has really increased, and she talks about all sports. We watch her on the app and whatever we watch on Apple TV. And she’s not reading off a teleprompter, they’re giving me subjects and they’re just talking.
Q: Ryan is your oldest.
A: He works for Google, and we always laugh ’cause we ask him what he does and he explains it, we can never figure out what it is. He went to Notre Dame, he made his way back to Chicago where the Notre Dame family is pretty big there. He’s an athletic kid, he dominates intramural now (chuckle).
A: He’s our guy, of all the kids, that we always say we can put him anywhere, he’s gonna survive. He’s the one that’s the talker. The job he does now, he’s always constantly talking with people. And they put him coming out of college an intern of running the whole FanFest at USC’s football stadium, as a student, and that was the first time they’d ever done that, because he’s so good at it.
Q: Describe your wife Stacy.
A: She had to be the main child-raiser, which probably is why they’re such great kids now (chuckle). She’s supportive of everybody. She’s not gonna sugarcoat anything for you either. She grew up in Iowa, it’s the old when things get bad, pull up the bootstraps, and get to work. That’s a great balance for me. I tell her all the time, she could have written books, she could have been a psychologist, just the way she talks and reasons things out is something else. She’s my best friend, obviously, we’ve been married for 31 years. It’s a big sacrifice that she’s done because if I wouldn’t have been playing basketball, whatever she would have done she would have accomplished and been at the top, so … she’s just awesome.
Q: Been to any Broadway shows?
A: We saw “Hamilton,” that was excellent. “Beautiful,” we really liked that one. “Waitress.”
Q: Favorite NYC restaurants?
A: Quality Meats, Quality Italian.
Q: There’s a feeling that nobody can beat the Warriors.
A: Well, they’re the defending champs. But that doesn’t mean any team in this league is gonna give it to ’em. You never know with injuries, that kind of stuff. You can think back to the old Chicago Bulls, that’s what makes the NBA to me interesting is when sometimes when you do have that team out there that everybody’s trying to beat, and who’s gonna be that team to do it? A lot of teams tried it (laugh), including us against the Bulls and never got it accomplished. I think that competition and having great players out there, having the LeBrons [James] and the [Kevin] Durants and [Steph] Currys at the top of the game, that’s what everybody’s striving for.
Q: What do you want Knicks fans to say about you and your team?
A: I want the fans to think that we’re a tough team, that we get after it, we share the ball, we play a fun game to watch for them. And the winning will come, if we do that.
Q: Message for Knicks fans.
A: We want to establish guys that they can be proud of when they go out there and they pay their hard-earned money to come to these games that they see that guys are laying it all out there. And, if our guys aren’t gonna do that, then we’ll bring other guys in that will. And I want it to be fun too. There’s a fine line, you can’t be all about, “I’m just gonna lay it all out there.” You still have to have fun doing it. We gotta find that balance with the guys to push them, but yet still, it’s a game, and you want to have fun, and that’s how we’ll get the best out of ’em.