At the start of the season, the Knicks thought they were playing for a playoff berth. Now, with 23 games left, they could be playing to save Jeff Hornacek's job.
The Knicks' head coach has faced tons of criticism as his team plummeted back down to Earth after surprising wins early on in the season. This last stretch of regular season play could make or break Hornacek's time with the Knicks, but he says he can't look at it that way.
"You can't think that way," he told The Post's Fred Kerber. "We've talked in the past with [owner] Jim Dolan, [general manager] Scott [Perry] and [president] Steve [Mills]. We all want to win as many games as possible. Still there's that, 'OK we know it's going to take a few years.'"
Hornacek saw his team run up 15 home wins to start the season 16-13 overall. But the hype was short-lived with players like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Kristaps Porzingis going down with injury, and the Knicks letting game after game slip away in the fourth quarter.
Hornacek, though, is still sticking to the "long-term plan."
"You still go back to, 'It's kind of a long-term plan.' We got off to a good start maybe changed everyone's thoughts. But they were home games, we knew we had a long way to go," Hornacek said.
"Especially with KP out at this point, I think we were still kind of in that little hunt where, 'Mayne if we got hot, we can sneak into the playoffs.' Tim's injury early in the season for 6 1/2 weeks and the KP. It kind of really adds to the fact that we've got to try to grow and [are] not just playing for this year but playing for the coming years."
With Porzingis still on the bench and the Knicks reeling with an eight-game losing streak, it will be hard for Hornacek to muster a good run out of this team before the season ends. But he is confident in the young talent the team possesses.
"Who says you can't win games with the young guys?" he said. "Their belief just has to be they can win even if they're young, even if they're inexperienced.
"We're just trying to get these guys that we have better."
But what about that lottery pick. Knicks' losses mean a higher chance to see their ping-poing ball selected with the No. 1 pick in this year's NBA Draft. Some teams like the Bulls and Mavericks have already said they will play their young players just to raise their draft stock.
Hornacek, though, wants to keep trying to win with his young guys to further their development.
"As coaches you try to do your best with what's out there. We're never trying to cash in games," Hornacek said. "We got no directive from management to do anything like that, except to see these young guys play and so we have to have a belief we're going to work on things the rest of the year. Hopefully that benefits for the future."
The Knicks kick things back up on Thursday as they take on the Magic on the road.