The regular season ended Wednesday night, and the hot seats are already falling through trap doors. This year’s departing-coaches parade started Thursday morning, with Orlando’s Frank Vogel and New York’s Jeff Hornacek leading the proceedings. Both were fired after missing the playoffs over two seasons with their respective teams.
Vogel, who went 54-110 with the Magic, and Hornacek, who went 60-104 with the Knicks, were both saddled with a similar, perhaps unfixable, obstacle: Their players were bad.
When Kristaps Porzingis tore his ACL in early February, he left behind a sparse Knicks lineup made up of journeymen, developing newcomers, and the corpse of Joakim Noah. For a time, 34-year-old Jarrett Jack started at point guard; later, he was replaced by a hodgepodge crew of Trey Burke, who started the year on the Westchester Knicks, midseason acquisition Emmanuel Mudiay, and popular but offensively hesitant rookie Frank Ntilikina. Enes Kanter, Noah, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Courtney Lee ate up $67 million in cap space this season, and the latter three are signed for at least the next two. Hornacek’s reluctance to play and develop his younger players was questionable, but in trying to make the Knicks competitive without Porzingis, he was hauling a boulder uphill.
Despite possessing a roster of freakishly athletic lottery picks, Orlando, similarly, lacked the firepower or discipline to succeed in the modern NBA. My colleague Kevin Clark put it in simple terms Thursday:
“The now-departed GM Rob Hennigan created a team without much thought of fit or whether they could shoot the basketball. The roster is so flawed that it cannot be fixed in a year or two and you wonder if, somehow, in Year 6 of the rebuild, the overhaul is just beginning. To be clear, this season was for taking stock, for the new front office to see what it had with Vogel and with the army of lottery picks who were still on the roster. The answer is not much.”
Both the Knicks and the Magic will have long roads back to respectability. New York has its centerpiece, but the franchise will have work to do to offload the horrendous contracts preventing it from building a competent roster around Porzingis.
Orlando, on the other hand, has nothing resembling a franchise player, and Aaron Gordon, the team’s most promising prospect, is set to hit free agency this summer. Firing Vogel presents an opportunity to begin a new experiment, but new experiments aren’t particularly pleasant after six seasons in the tank.
Coaching careers at the bottom of the NBA are nasty, brutish, and short. They’re also quite unfair. The task of fixing the Knicks or the Magic in two seasons was like asking somebody to put together a jigsaw puzzle with half of the pieces missing; nobody could have done it. But it would be entertaining to see Jerry Stackhouse or Jay Wright try.