For the past 20 years, the New York Knicks have been largely associated with drama, dysfunction and a lot of losing. President Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry are desperate to change all of that.
On Thursday, they completed what they hope is the first step in the process by hiring David Fizdale as head coach. “We got our guy,” one team source said.
If Fizdale is indeed the guy, he’ll end up bringing a sense of stability to a franchise that hasn’t had much of late. The Knicks have had 11 coaches since the 2001-02 season, have won just one playoff series in that span and have left a loyal fan base frustrated and confused countless times.
So you can forgive some of those fans for scoffing at the following thought:
There’s actually a clear path forward now for the Knicks.
With Fizdale in place, the club will turn its attention to building a young core centered around injured All-Star Kristaps Porzingis.
“It’s going to take time,” Mills said last month. “And that’s been one of our issues over the years, that we tried to do it with quick fixes.”
It all sounds logical, but we know that the road to normalcy will be long and arduous.
Below is a look at the next steps for the Knicks and the decisions they need to get right to turn the page on years of dysfunction:
Figure things out with Porzingis: A little more than 12 months ago, Porzingis skipped his exit meeting with Mills and then-president Phil Jackson due to frustration with the franchise. The relationship hasn’t been fully repaired.
Fizdale, however, seems determined to improve it. According to a report by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Fizdale plans to travel to Latvia to meet with Porzingis in his home country.
This is a strong, timely move by the new head coach. Porzingis, who is recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL, is eligible for a five-year, $157 million contract extension. It’s unclear at the moment if the Knicks plan to offer Porzingis a max extension while he’s hurt, but what is clear is that the relationship between player and franchise is at a crossroads. Maybe a little face time with Fizdale can help move things in the right direction.
Hit on draft picks and develop: If the Knicks want to build around Porzingis, they’ll need to nail their draft picks in June. New York will have a top-10 pick and a high second-round pick, and for the first time in a while, the club owns all of its first-round picks going forward. So drafting players and developing them will be key.
The Knicks feel good about their player-development program, headed by Craig Robinson. The hope is that Fizdale and the staff he hires enhance that program. Fizdale built a reputation as an assistant coach with the Miami Heat on his ability to connect and communicate with players, and on strong teaching and tactical ability. A key for New York’s head coach will be the development of guard Frank Ntilikina — selected eighth overall in the 2017 draft — who was a recurring topic for the Knicks during the coaching search, sources say.
Become a destination for free agents: Due in part to self-inflicted drama, the Knicks struggled to lure top free agents during Jackson’s tenure. Whether it was owner James Dolan’s handling of the Charles Oakley incident or Jackson’s handling of Carmelo Anthony‘s exit, there always seemed to be a reason for top free agents to keep the Knicks from the top of their wish lists. Players always wanted to play in New York, they just didn’t want to deal with the negativity surrounding the Knicks. Obviously, that needs to change if the club hopes to build a winner.
Perry has strong relationships around the league. Fizdale is also popular among some players in the league, including LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, which could help in free agency. (Before you ask, the idea that Fizdale can lure James to New York is a pipe dream.)
The bigger question for the Knicks is how much money they’ll have to spend in 2019. There are many variables at play, but the Knicks could have at least $30 million in cap space that summer if they renounce the rights to all of their free agents and remove all non-guaranteed money from their books (which is a big if, of course).
That number could change if they sign Porzingis to a new deal this offseason. But if New York decides to wait and offer Porzingis an extension in the summer of 2019, which is a risk for both sides, it would create an additional $10 million in cap space for the club. If the Knicks sign Porzingis to an extension this summer, they could still have about $20 million in space (again, assuming they renounce their rights to all their free agents).
Try to minimize off-court drama: This might be the most difficult item on Mills and Perry’s to-do list.
Whether it was Jackson’s issues with Carmelo Anthony, Derek Fisher’s fight with Matt Barnes or Derrick Rose going AWOL, the Knicks had been in the news for the wrong reasons regularly in recent seasons.
Mills had prominent roles in the organization for much of the recent chaos. But he and Perry would love to turn the page on all of that.
An early test for Mills, Perry and Fizdale will be the Joakim Noah situation.
Tracy McGrady and Kevin Arnovitz outline the dire options the Knicks face with Joakim Noah’s hefty contract.
Noah and the Knicks agreed to indefinitely part ways after the veteran center and then head coach Jeff Hornacek had to be separated during an argument at practice.
Will Fizdale want to keep Noah away? Will he welcome him back? If the Knicks decide they want Noah to remain away from the club, will they buy him out?
It’s a delicate player-coach issue that the Knicks would certainly prefer to avoid in the future. Fizdale dealt with his own issues in Memphis when his relationship with star center Marc Gasol soured.
The coach later said that he has learned from his mistakes with the Grizzlies and is eager for a second chance. He gets that in New York.
His four-year deal aligns seamlessly with the five-year pacts that Mills and Perry signed last season. So, for better or for worse, these three men will be leading the Knicks going forward.
For the first time in a long time, there’s a clear path back to respectability for New York.
Will Mills, Perry and Fizdale be able to follow the map?