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Jeff Hornacek on Phil Jackson's beloved triangle offense: 'We're not running it every time'

Phil Jackson and Jeff Hornacek stand tall. (Getty Images)

The triangle offense is dead, we suppose. First-year New York Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek is already on record both detailing his players’ complaints with the system that won 11 NBA championships from 1991 through 2010, and his intention to mostly scrap the triple post offense this season with his new team.

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Knicks president Phil Jackson, a devotee of the offense Tex Winter helped design nearly 70 years ago, has apparently been hands-off during Knicks practice so far this training camp and exhibition season. Good news, seemingly, for those left rooting for a Knicks team that won just 49 games during Jackson’s first two full seasons running the rebuilding team.

Speaking with reporters on Sunday, Hornacek made clear his intentions to mostly leave the offense behind, as he sets out in his attempt to make the Knicks a winner. From Ian Begley at ESPN New York:

“We’re not running it every time,” he said of the triangle. “We’re mixing it in here and there, and hopefully for us it’s a good thing we can do to execute a play on a dead ball that we have something to go to [in half-court sets].”


“Phil’s been great. He’s not trying to take over and make us do anything. He’s given us the leeway,” Hornacek said after practice Sunday. “There are some things that we do that aren’t the triangle stuff [such as] our early [offense]. Quite honestly, we thought he would say, ‘Let’s not do that.’ Or, ‘Let’s not do that option.’ But he hasn’t said that at all.”

Of course, it’s October. Baby boomers like Phil Jackson are notoriously fickle.

It is to Phil’s credit that he hasn’t meddled with his new coach, a leader who is just a couple of years removed from working as a Coach of the Year candidate while helming a previously-unheralded Phoenix Suns squad. Knicks fans badly need a good bit of news in the wake of what might turn out to be a disastrous offseason – acquiring past-prime former Chicago Bulls stars Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah – and the mere idea that Phil Jackson’s favorite offense might be mostly off of the table might just be the baby step most Knicks followers need.

Especially in light of the embarrassing work turned in, both on court and off, by hand-picked Jackson coaches Kurt Rambis (on) and Derek Fisher (off).

Hornacek, in the wake of a Knicks season that saw the team finish third from the bottom in pace, went on to identify the frustrations he’s heard about the triple post:

“If it slows you down, I think that’s where most guys [who critique the triangle] are probably coming from,” Hornacek said. “You end up being a slow-down team and never get easy buckets, and you’re running that half-court set all the time. First of all, guys don’t like to run it. Secondly, it makes it very difficult to get easy buckets early in the offense. And I think in today’s game, those early buckets are nice to get.”

They are. Which is why Tex Winter, in detailing the offense in a book published during the Eisenhower Administration, repeatedly pointed out that the ideal first option has to come in either transition, or a quick hit to the basket. At no point was it ever emphasized, by those that know how to run the offense, that the players need to hold off on their initial instinct when it comes to creating good looks early in what could be a short possession.

Hornacek understands this, he’s just working as devil’s advocate on his players’ behalf in talking to the media.

The issue here, as Jackson continues to put his foot in his mouth (just this week he claimed that the 2016 offseason was the first chance he’s had with salary cap space; forgetting of course the 2015 offseason, and the chance at space he had in 2014 when he decided to retain Carmelo Anthony deep into his mid-30s with a maximum contract), is whether or not the NBA understands this moving forward.

Just on Tuesday, former Timberwolves and Rockets coach Kevin McHale also lauded the era of change in what appears to be a post-triple post society:

“Jeff was a good hire,’’ McHale said. “As GM, you do have a style of play you want to have in your head. Phil had so much success in the triangle, but that was his system. As a GM, you got to give up some of that control and look at the coach and say: ‘What are you comfortable bringing?’

“It sounds like Jeff’s got a lot more room to get up and down,’

Reggie Miller, speaking in the same TNT conference call, also chimed in:

“I think everyone was worried these new type of players were going to be forced to run the triangle,’’ Miller said. “Players like Noah, Rose and [signee Brandon] Jennings, they’re not triangle-type players. They’re more free flowers.”

For a player like Miller, who spent a massive chunk of his career working against Jackson-led teams from Chicago and Los Angeles, to mischaracterize the offense as “free flower”-averse shows just how much the league still has to learn about the triangle.

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The whole point is to flow freely. With spacing. Without calling plays. With quick hits and quick action and innumerable options that makes threats out of everyone. The triple post offense isn’t a game of Mousetrap, where a series of demanded sets leads to the end as the coach sees fit. The offense is open-ended, with the players in charge.

At its best, it should be. And we haven’t seen the triangle’s best in ages. Not even during Phil Jackson’s last championship runs with the Lakers, when Kobe Bryant tended to run a little roughshod with things.

For those curious about the practical applications of the offense in the modern era, I suggest you watch this clip:

Derivations, influences from and outright sets taken from the triple post offense are more ubiquitous in the NBA than most think. What the triangle needs, at this point, is a John the Baptist to work a better job of explaining as much; in spite of Phil Jackson’s many, many recent attempts.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!