The New York Knicks have been regulars in the NBA headlines this season and rarely for their winning. First-year head coach Jeff Hornacek said the off-court distractions were to be expected on Wednesday, per Ian Begley of ESPN.com.
"I kind of, not was warned, but it was expected that it was going to be something all the time," Hornacek said. "And it's lived up to the billing. It's been something all year. So, OK, let's go play a game and try to win."
The coach's words come after Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report wrote a story Tuesday that was critical of Carmelo Anthony and his competitive fire compared to the likes of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. That in itself likely wouldn't have been a major distraction, but team president Phil Jackson tweeted his apparent agreement with the piece:
Phil Jackson @PhilJackson11
Bleacher's Ding almost rings the bell, but I learned you don't change the spot on a leopard with Michael Graham in my CBA daze.2017-2-7 20:22:27
Begley said it was notable Jackson referred to Michael Graham because the two got into an argument during a game when Jackson coached the former Georgetown player in the Continental Basketball Association. The team released Graham, and Begley noted Jackson later said it was difficult to reach the player in the coach's memoirs.
According to Begley, "Jackson has—directly or indirectly—delivered several critiques of Anthony this season."
What's more, the Knicks have reportedly tried to trade their star forward throughout the season. Adrian Wojnarowski and Chris Mannix of The Vertical reported Jackson was "determined" to move the Syracuse product—who has a no-trade clause—and start a rebuild centered around Kristaps Porzingis.
Even the Cleveland Cavaliers have provided a distraction for the Knicks, as Frank Isola of the New York Daily News reported Monday LeBron James was pushing his team's front office to acquire Anthony, even if it had to part with Kevin Love. James, however, called the rumor "trash," per NBA on TNT.
Hornacek further discussed his mindset regarding the distractions, per Begley: "I'm kind of like these guys on our team. Everything that gets out there you're going, 'OK, whatever.' Hopefully it's not a distraction for our guys, and our focus is on the games and what we need to do at practice."
Hornacek also praised Anthony for the way he has handled the "stuff that comes out with Phil." Anthony entered Wednesday's game against the Los Angeles Clippers averaging 22.9 points, six rebounds and 2.9 assists per game behind 43.5 percent shooting from the field.
As if the Anthony and Jackson drama weren't enough, former player Charles Oakley was escorted from Madison Square Garden during Wednesday's contest, as Sports Illustrated shared:
Sports Illustrated @SInow
Charles Oakley shoves Madison Square Garden security and is escorted out of the building in strange scene https://t.co/lTphvnSzFV2017-2-9 01:23:45
According to Begley, "Oakley referenced owner James Dolan as team president Phil Jackson was trying to calm him down. 'Dolan did this,' he said."
Mannix added "Oakley has long had a complicated, often contemptuous relationship with the Knicks. Very rarely is he seen at MSG. What a bizarre scene."
While Hornacek said the distractions were to be expected, he probably didn't envision something like the Oakley situation when he accepted the Knicks job. The outside noise has led to disappointing results on the floor, and New York entered Wednesday's game with four losses in its last five contests and a 22-31 record.
It appears well on its way to a fourth straight losing season, although it is only 2.5 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the lackluster Eastern Conference, where a winning record is not a prerequisite for postseason contention.
If the Knicks can work through the distractions and win a few games in a row, they will suddenly find themselves in the thick of the playoff race again.