CLEVELAND — Jeff Hornacek got his expected pink slip. It occurred after landing in New York early Thursday morning after the plane ride home from Cleveland after the Knicks beat the Cavaliers in the season finale, an NBA source confirmed.
Knicks president Steve Mills, general manager Scott Perry and player development director Craig Robinson made the trip to Cleveland to serve as the grim reapers, ending Hornacek’s reign after two 50-loss seasons.
Hornacek had one season left on his contract and the writing was on the wall — with the president stone silent virtually the entire season regarding his head coach.
Mills and Perry now will embark on finding the Knicks their 11th coach since Jeff Van Gundy resigned in 2001. Mills is expected to meet the media Thursday afternoon to discuss the firing.
Sources indicate the Knicks are expected to interview, among others, Mark Jackson, David Fizdale, Jerry Stackhouse, Jason Kidd and David Blatt. Doc Rivers will be a candidate if he doesn’t return to the Clippers.
The only other coach officially relieved of their duties Thursday morning was associate coach Kurt Rambis, a longtime Phil Jackson confidante.
After the Cavaliers loss, Michael Beasley made cryptic remarks about Hornacek when asked about what it was like to play for him.
“It was cool,’’ Beasley said.
Asked what things he liked, Beasley avoided the normal platitudes.
“A few things — the specifics I’m drawing a blank right now,’’ Beasley said. “Jeff’s a good guy. He did some things good things, did some things bad.’’
Beasley admitted it was “difficult’’ for Hornacek because of his uncertain future.
“You don’t want to mess up, at the end of the day, you’re still thinking about not messing up,” Beasley said. “It’s tough. He played the hand he was dealt.”
At Wednesday’s morning shootaround, Hornacek had emphatically made his case to remain on the job next season. Hornacek said the organization should preach “patience” and “continuity.’’
The Knicks management has talked about “stability’’ needed in the organization, but has not shown such by their actions.
Hornacek said he had planned to be at Thursday player exit interviews, but Knicks brass decided it was best to get it over with sooner than later.
Hornacek had said he hoped to help Mills and Perry conduct exit interviews. “I plan on it,’’ Hornacek said. “No one told me no.”
Now they have told him no. Hornacek’s Knicks finished up 29-53 and left the coach at 59-104 in two years on the job.
Hornacek was Phil Jackson’s hire, and though Mills signed off on it, the new management team clearly wants to start from scratch to cultivate a new culture.
Hornacek’s reign was difficult from the start, having to blend Jackson’s triangle with his modernized offense. This season, Hornacek didn’t meet the objectives set by Mills and Perry regarding a stronger defensive presence (they finished 23rd in rankings) and more of an up-tempo, 3-point shooting attack.
Nevertheless, it was hard to blame Hornacek for a mediocre roster that couldn’t withstand Kristaps Porzingis’ ACL tear.
Mills and Perry decided the objectives weren’t reached with defensive pride was the big priority. It’s unclear what effect Hornacek’s run-ins with Joakim Noah and Kyle O’Quinn played — or his rough relationship last season with Porzingis, whom The Post reported cursed at him.
Hornacek had an answer for the defensive woes, saying losing Porzingis on Feb. 6 was a chief factor in the defensive decline, as he had been a consistent rim protector.
“We [the coaches] were reading an article this morning when [Utah’s] Rudy Gobert was out and what happened when he came back,’’ Hornacek said. “We look at KP as one of our offensive anchors, but he’s also one of our defensive anchors. And I think at the beginning of the year we were ranked 15th when he was out there and we had just put that group together and going over our assignments.”
Hornacek said he believed continuity would help with the rebuild, though next season appears broken already with Porzingis not expected back from a torn ACL until around Christmas at the earliest.
“I think all of the assistant coaches are like that, too — we all have a year left on the contract,” Hornacek said. “So until someone says no, it’s just business as usual. That’s how we approach it. That’s why you sign contracts.
“We’d love to continue with these guys and get some of the guys healthy and get back at it and continue that process. We didn’t think it was going to be a one-year turnaround. That’s our thoughts.”
Hornacek made an obvious reference to the Sixers staying with Brett Brown through their prolonged struggles. Philadelphia locked up the East’s No. 3 seed with a rout of the Bucks on Wednesday night.
“The [coaches who] stuck around now all of a sudden have their teams four or five years later, maybe even home-court advantage for playoffs,” Hornacek said.