Since the new millennium arrived, the New York Knicks have been the poster boys of mediocrity.
That’s putting it harshly, but it’s hard to not mince any words. They’ve gone through 12 different coaches (with a few interims sprinkled in) along with six different general managers and have made the playoffs just five times in an 18-year span.
Without the last full season that Jeff Van Gundy coached and a couple of seasons in the early part of this decade under Mike D’Antoni and successor Mike Woodson, the Knicks would have failed to eclipse the 40-win mark during that period.
Questionable draft decisions, constant player movement and inconsistent management were—and have been—a recipe for disaster. But it seems with the Steve Mills’ promotion to team president, the hiring of general manager Scott Perry and the appointment of head coach David Fizdale, things are trending upward in the Big Apple.
Between Kristaps Porzingis being on the road to recovery and the pieces that have been added through the draft, New York’s new man in charge is optimistic.
“I think it’s already happening,” Fizdale told NBC New York in an interview. “I really feel like we’re all in sync and moving in the right direction with this thing and we’re doing it the right way.”
From the start, Perry has impressed Fizdale with a plan of action. There’s been a pattern with his acquisitions. Players such as Trey Burke and Emmanuel Mudiay—and most recently Mario Hezonja and Noah Vonleh—were all top 10 draft picks in their respective classes. Fizdale knows that these players have the talent. It’s his job to hit the reset button for these four and teach them the right way to maximize their potential.
Changing the culture of a team is difficult to do. It takes time to not only create good habits, but also apply them consistently. Fizdale is the perfect person to spearhead this daunting task.
He’s a motivator. He’s a player’s coach. Most importantly, he’s a winner.
“I don’t like to call anything that was before me a mess,” Fizdale said. “I respect the guys before me. They just didn’t accomplish what they set out to do. I’m here to accomplish that.
“With the help of Steve and Scott, the whole organization and Kristaps [Porzingis] and these guys—I think we can put together something special.”
Fizdale is already making things happen with his commitment to building relationships. A few months being named head coach, he flew out to Latvia to get to know Porzingis in his hometown of Liepaja.
The All-Star forward’s year was cut short due to a knee injury sustained mid-season, so the two discussed his rehabilitation plan moving forward. Fizdale is pegging Porzingis to become the leader of the Knicks and how he’ll be the veteran now.
“It was a must,” Fizdale said of the trip. “That’s just who I am. I’ve never not seen a player in the summer, so wherever they are, I’m going there. For me and for my wife to be able to experience his culture…for him to share that with us and for his family to let us in and show us that hospitality was amazing.”
“Kristaps is excited. I’m telling you right now. He’s excited. We had fun. Four days of fun. We talked some hoop. I actually planned on watching film with him, but we were having so much fun just hanging out talking that we never even got to the film part of it.”
Having the face of the franchise buy in is step one. Long-term goals, team culture and healthy environment were brought up frequently, and Fizdale believes that Porzingis is all about the new aura in the room.
“I really felt like that clicked with him,” Fizdale said. “And I think he likes the challenge of me saying I want him to be the MVP, I want him to be Defensive Player of the Year. Real competitors, they want that. I’m going right at it with him. I want him to look at himself that way.”
Accountability, respect and selflessness are the three principles Fizdale is aiming to incorporate into all of his guys. Those are the characteristics in the locker room, but what kind of identity will New York have under his watch on the floor?
“I think we’re gonna be a disruptive, defensive team,” Fizdale said. “Very hard-nosed, tough team. I think we’re gonna be fast. We’ll get up and down the court. We’ll share the ball with each other.
“We’ll go through our ups and downs with the young guys of decision-making and what’s a good shot and a bad shot and all of that stuff. But I think overall, you’re gonna see a team that you enjoy watching.”
Having been a part of championship teams with the Miami Heat during the Big Three era, Fizdale knows what success tastes like, so naturally, he’s going to expect nothing but the best from his guys and himself no matter what.
He also understands patience will be necessary to turn the Knicks’ misfortunes around, something he admitted he didn’t have much of in his first head coaching gig with the Memphis Grizzlies.
“I don’t really get into what’s outside of what I can control, but I know me,” Fizdale said. “I know that that I gotta keep myself in a place of patience and let these guys grow and go through the suffering of sometimes not looking so good, but at the same time being positive with these guys and pushing them.
With a second opportunity and a fresh start, Fizdale is all eyes ahead—at whatever speed is necessary for him and his players to get it right.
“There’s just some things you can’t rush,” Fizdale said. “You can’t rush relationships. You can’t rush trust. You can’t rush the culture…Hopefully, I learned that lesson coming here and I really take the time and the steps that’s necessary to build a culture that can last.”
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