New York Knicks president Steve Mills said in a news conference Sunday that he and general manager Scott Perry are "on the same page" with coach Jeff Hornacek amid speculation about Hornacek’s job security. Mills, while not commenting directly about any potential trades, also intimated that Frank Ntilikina and Willy Hernangomez are not available in any trade talks for Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe.
Lastly, he said that his and Perry's goal is to improve the organization's reputation after the club was involved in several embarrassing off-court issues in recent seasons under team president Phil Jackson.
Here are the highlights of Mills’ news conference with reporters in Cleveland, which was published on the team website.
On speculation regarding Jeff Hornacek's job status: “There was speculation not on our part but by the outside world,” Mills said. “This summer when Jeff and I went to Jim Dolan with a plan on how we wanted to build this team and how we wanted the team to come together and bringing Scott in and tweaking that plan and the three of us deciding how we’re going to move forward, we just want to see progress. We want to win as many games as we can. We want the guys to play hard every night and the three of us are all on the same page as it relates to that and we want to just see the team move in a positive direction.”
ESPN.com reported on Friday that, entering the season, organizational decision-makers were evaluating Hornacek on the Knicks' rotation players’ improvements on defense and if they played with a sustained effort. Decision-makers also wanted to see how Hornacek performed outside of the shadow of Jackson, who influenced the way Hornacek ran the Knicks' offense last season, according to sources. The Knicks beat the Brooklyn Nets by 21 points on Friday night to earn their first victory of the season.
“Hopefully the Brooklyn game was a step in the right direction because it demonstrated the kinds of things that we wanted the team to do and I think it was really good for the players,” Mills said. “... Hopefully some learning and some confidence is being built within the guys. We’re all on the same page on how we want to move forward.”
Mills said he and Perry’s recent conversations with Hornacek have focused on “getting the team better and finding ways to reduce the turnovers and make sure we’re improving defensively, and that’s really what our goals are. Jeff, Scott and I talked a lot about it -- we didn’t focus on the record. Our focus is on how we’re improving over the course of the season. If we do all the things we’re supposed to do from a defensive standpoint and from reducing turnovers, wins will come from that. But we have to be consistent and diligent about it.”
Mills added that stability, in general, is a goal for the organization.
“Jeff, Scott and I are in this together,” he said. “We need to make sure we’re growing as a team and doing the things we said we were going to do over the summer. As long as we’re doing those things, we’ll continue to build this group.
“Stability is important for this group,” he added. “We haven’t had a lot of it here.”
On Willy Hernangomez's reduced minutes: Mills said he had no problem with Hornacek keeping Hernangomez out of his rotation in the first three games of the season.
“We’re not dictating who plays. We don’t tell Jeff who to play,” the team president said. “Jeff understands our strategy as a whole and wants these guys to develop. At the end of the day, we tell the players and we tell Jeff that you got to earn your minutes. Billy understands that and Billy’s done a really good job over the last week understanding what he has to do. He’s definitely stepped it up in practice.”
Mills added that he is confident that Hernangomez will earn his way back into the rotation.
“This is part of Billy’s development. He’s a guy that’s going to be with us for the next three years. We got a lot of time to work with him and he’s going to be a part of who we are.”
“We’re still committed to growing the team with our young guys and have our veterans play a significant role in helping them come along," he said. "... [the young players] will always be supplemented by veteran guys because you can’t just throw a bunch of young guys out there and expect them to play well and compete.”
On trading Frank Ntilikina: The Phoenix Suns asked New York about including Frank Ntilikina in a trade for Bledsoe, according to sources. But the Knicks have been opposed to moving Ntilikina. Mills, while not commenting directly on trade talks, reiterated that the club is committed to building around a young core.
“We’re committed to him and his development," Mills said. “That’s part of what we talked about in the beginning of the year. ... What we’re trying to do with this team, it centers around guys like Frank, guys like KP, we have our draft picks moving forward.”
On Ntilikina’s performance against Brooklyn, Mills said: “I thought he did a great job. ... He’s not a flashy player but does the right things, he plays solid defensively, he’s willing to challenge guys right from the start. The way he played, with the style he plays, was what we saw when we were scouting him.”
Mills wants to create a calm situation in New York: The Knicks have been a part of some unflattering off-court storylines in recent seasons. The Phil Jackson/Carmelo Anthony dynamic, the Charles Oakley situation and Derrick Rose going AWOL are a few issues that come to mind. That led to the Knicks being mocked publicly and looked at disparagingly by some players around the league. Mills said he and Perry want New York to be viewed as a first-class organization.
“Obviously, I’m from New York,” Mills, a Long Island native, said. “I’m a proud guy. I’m a competitive guy; we all are. And we don’t want people thinking about our franchise that way. So our goal is to make sure that we’re run like a first-class organization. We hire really good people. And we do really good things to gain the trust of the fans and sort of the basketball community and that’s what our goal is."
He also said he and Perry have spent time around the team to try to create a calm, open environment.
“That’s part of making Jeff feel comfortable and feeling that he can push guys in terms of getting them to do what we want,” he said. “Make the players feel comfortable and feel like they can come to us if they have issues and we can communicate the issues that we have with them. Everyone has to feel comfortable, everyone has to feel like there’s an open door. All we are trying do is make sure we have a better team and these guys get better as players. I think everyone understands that’s what we’re trying to do. So we’re being very consistent with guys and I think they appreciate it and we certainly appreciate the dialogue we can have with them.”
ESPN's Ian Begley contributed to this report.