MILWAUKEE — Jeff Hornacek said NBA commissioner Adam Silver has no reason to worry about the Knicks. He can save the phone call to team president Steve Mills about tanking for a better lottery seed.
Responding to Silver’s bizarre warning to the Bulls for announcing they would shelve starters Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, Hornacek said the Knicks are doing the right thing by their franchise despite a league-worst 1-13 record in the past 14 games.
Hornacek hasn’t played starting point guard Jarrett Jack since the All-Star break, sitting him for six straight games. The Knicks coach has also cut into starting shooting guard Courtney Lee’s playing time — playing, at times, an all-point guard backcourt while also looking at rookie shooting guard Damyean Dotson.
The Knicks are rolling with their 25-and-under point guards — rookie Frank Ntilikina, 19, Emmanuel Mudiay, 22, and Trey Burke, 25 — for better or worse.
“There’s a difference between tanking and trying to look at the future,’’ Hornacek said after practice Thursday at Marquette’s facility. “And we made trades to bring these guys in. We brought Trey in from the G-League and Emmanuel from another team. That’s a totally separate thought process. We’re seeing if they can play for us.’’
No change is in store Friday against the Bucks when this 0-3 trip concludes. The Knicks (24-41) have 17 games left with seemingly few victories on the horizon.
Hornacek said Jack could help stabilize the offense, but if that’s the best chance to steal a win in Milwaukee, it isn’t happening, while Lee will miss a second straight game because of a family-related death.
“It’s the same,’’ Hornacek said of the lineup. “We’re trying to evaluate our three young point guards. Moving forward, we got to make decisions on those guys. We have to play them as many minutes as possible. Jarrett has done a great job for us this year. But we’re at the point of the season we need to take a look at those guys and give them bigger minutes. It’s hard to judge them on five minutes here and there.”
Mudiay has shot a mind-boggling 3-of-25 on the trip and his defense appears porous, though Hornacek said he sees improvement. Silver opened a can of worms when he ordered the Bulls to play Lopez and Holiday, both ex-Knicks and far from stars. The Bulls will comply rather than look at their young players.
“We still want to try to win games,’’ Hornacek said. “We want to see if our young guys can help us win games. It’s part of the evaluation process. It’s not like, ‘Oh heck, if we put them out there we’re going to lose games.’ We still want to try to win and see if these guys can step up and help us win.
“I’m not sure Adam told them what lineup to play. He probably is telling them they got to play. You can put them out there for 10 minutes. It’s meaningless for us. Because that’s not what we’re doing.”
In a recent memo warning teams about tanking, Silver attempted to recognize rebuilding efforts. It is a fine line.
“If we ever received evidence that players or coaches were attempting to lose or otherwise taking steps to cause any game to result otherwise than on its competitive merits, that conduct would be met with the swiftest and harshest response possible from the league office,” Silver wrote.
Hornacek said Mills never discussed the memo with him. Silver felt the Bulls crossed the line, which is debatable. Bulls general manager Jim Paxson stated they’d sit Lopez, Holiday and Jerian Grant, largely journeymen, to look at younger players David Nwaba, Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio.
Also debatable to Hornacek is why Silver needed to wait to change the lottery. In 2019, the worst-five teams will have the same odds of landing the No. 1 pick.
“It’s gotten worse the last four, five , six, seven years,’’ Hornacek said of teams content to lose for the chance at a better lottery seed. “Maybe that’s why they made adjustments. I don’t why they didn’t make adjustments to it and implement it this year. I don’t know why they waited a year. They have what they’re going to do. Just put it in now. Maybe teams are trying to get one last crack at it. Teams realize difference-makers in this league come from the top five picks.’’
The 76ers forced Silver to act — perhaps not wanting other franchises to adapt former Philadelphia general manager Sam Hinkie’s tactics. The Sixers became an NBA embarrassment for several years to build through high lottery picks. After records of 19-63, 18-64, 10-72 and 28-54, the Sixers have arrived this season — or at least are seven games over .500.
“Players, coaches, it’s tough to go through that,’’ Hornacek said. “It takes a while. You’re not going to always hit that draft pick. This year, you get Donovan Mitchell at 13. You can find players like that but [GMs] play the percentages.’’