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  • Monday Musings: Knicks Hire Fizdale (Featuring Charlie Zegers)

Monday Musings: Knicks Hire Fizdale (Featuring Charlie Zegers)

Photo: Bailey Carlin/TKW Illustration
Bryan Gibberman and Charlie Zegers break down their reactions to the reported David Fizdale hire by New York and converse about how to manage expectations with the new ‘Bockers head coach.

This should be fun. Charlie Zegers is jumping on Monday Musings and we’re gonna turn this into a discussion.

The pretext of this week’s edition was supposed to be to discuss the Knicks hiring of David Fizdale as their next coach, and it will be, sort of.

Full disclosure, I’ve grown to dislike the media aftermath of when a coach gets hired by a team across any sport. There are tons of well-written and researched stories out there judging whether New York made the right or wrong decision to hire Fizdale, but the truth is no one from a Knicks media, blogger, or fan perspective knows. It’s all reacting to something that’s impossible to be truly informed about unless there’s a random Grizzlies/Knicks combo guy out there that watches every game of both teams. 

Nevertheless, I like what I’ve read about Fizdale’s background, respect what he’s about as a human, and am 100 percent behind rooting for him to succeed.

Reacting to when a coach is hired is a necessary evil. There’s a lot of good insight out there so you can try to get a view into who Fizdale is by many people. It’s going to be fun to get to see for ourselves what the Knicks new head coach is.

The information I think you can glean from the Knicks’ hiring of Fizdale and the process they went through to get there is an air of normalcy around this franchise like we haven’t seen in a very long time. 

There’re still a long way from proving they can be successful, but team president Steve Mills has settled things down since succeeding Phil Jackson. 

Charlie:

Hang on, I assumed this was going to be an extended freak-out over Fizdale’s feud with another European big man, followed by a chat about the Knicks’ pursuit of LeBron this summer.

Adjusting my expectations accordingly.

O.K. then.

Sure, from the outside, the Knicks appear to be running like an actual, honest-to-God, all-grown-up organization. They conducted a reasonable coaching search, with a wide range of interesting candidates. They could have given Mike Budenholzer a blank check, but they didn’t. They could have hired Steve Mills’ college teammate, David Blatt, but they didn’t do that either. They could have hired a “fan favorite” like Mark Jackson or Mike Woodson.

Instead, they’ve given the job to a coach who is liked and respected by a huge percentage of today’s NBA players, who has an excellent reputation and a limited-but-impressive résumé. That seems like something a grown-up NBA franchise would do. But what happens next will be most telling.

It seems Fizdale’s falling-out with Marc Gasol in Memphis was brought on, at least in part, by the coach’s attempt to change the Grizzlies’ style and culture from “grit ‘n’ grind” to a more modern system. He may have an easier time establishing a culture here in New York—the current team doesn’t have much of an entrenched style or as many headstrong, established veterans eager to preserve the status quo. But we can’t know that yet. 

Will Mills and Perry fully support Fizdale’s program? Will Fiz have the chance to implement a full Miami-style conditioning program—which might actually kill Emmanuel Mudiay? 

What happens the first time Fiz gets fed up with Tim Hardaway Jr.’s defense and sends him to the bench? Or when Enes Kanter—assuming he doesn’t opt out—starts sulking because he isn’t starting?

Your hypothesis is interesting, but, sadly, impossible to prove.

Bryan:

I’m expecting the front office and Fizdale to be on the same page with a strategy of how they want the Knicks on-court product to look.

Mills and Perry took a hands off approach with fired head coach Jeff Hornacek last year and it was the right thing to do despite the frustration it brought on watching him do his job terribly. New York’s front office giving Hornacek the freedom to coach his way after how Jackson meddled the previous year was something that needed to be done. It was good optics for them to let Hornacek fire himself rather than have a repeat of the season before even if it was pushing for a smarter rotation or general principles. 

Fizdale is Mills and Perry’s coach, for better or worse. You have to believe they’ll be in lock step on a strategy they want implemented and how to do it across the entire organization. And this strategy needs to be understood and accepted at all levels. This is how you create a positive culture that can be grown and established over time.

If you want to file everything the Knicks do under the “I’ll believe it when I see it” category, then it’s a completely understandable view point. The Knicks organization hasn’t earned the right to get the benefit of the doubt. 

BUT… this is a list of things the Knicks have done correctly over the past year:

  1. Executive chairman James Dolan stepped in and fired Phil Jackson when it was very clear it needed to be done;
  2. They traded Carmelo Anthony when it was very clear it needed to be done;
  3. Steve Mills re-shaped the front office by hiring general manager Scott Perry and the duo cemented a new group with fresh blood (e.g. Craig Robinson, Gerald Madkins);
  4. Fans with working eyes were worried about how much the front office valued Frank Ntilikina, but based on the season-ending presser and reports since, it seems that was a Hornacek problem rather than the front office;
  5. Perry and Mills went through a thorough, detailed coaching search that looked at a variety of candidates. AND the process landed on a logical coach that made lots of sense in theory

I can’t remember the last time the Knicks organization strung together so many events in a row that made sense. It’s a nice change of pace. 

Charlie:

I will respond with a somewhat extended metaphor… please stay with me, I promise it will make sense.

My wife and I used to have a dog. We adopted her from an animal shelter. A big black mutt, part shepherd, part retriever. Wonderful dog. Smart dog. Loving. Protective, devoted to her people.

And afraid of newspapers.

When we first got her, I was still having the Daily News delivered to my house every morning. I’d go out and pick up the bagged, rolled-up paper off the lawn every morning. And if I encountered the dog on my way back inside, she’d shy away from me or hide somewhere. Before long I figured it out—her prior owner probably beat her with a rolled-up paper when she was a puppy. So, I’d make a point not to walk by her with a paper, or I’d unroll it, making it into a less-threatening shape before coming inside. But every once in a while, I’d forget, and even years later, I got the same reaction.

When it comes to the Knicks, I’m just like the adorable mutt.

I can’t argue with any of your points. Sure, I could quibble. I could ask why they foolishly let Willy Hernangómez waste away on the bench before trading him for nothing in particular. Or who was really dictating which players would get minutes at the point after the acquisition of Emmanuel Mudiay. Those are minor issues, compared to the positive moves you listed. But accepting your premise—giving credit to Dolan and Mills—is awfully hard. 

I’d like to give them credit. I’d like to be more than cautiously optimistic about what’s to come. But I can’t do it. That pair has hit me with a newspaper too many times.

Bryan:

It’s impossible to ignore your side of the discussion and that’s why I feel hesitation in believing everything is going work out myself. This isn’t a situation where you can just ignore the past because the past is still partially present. 

I do think it’s possible to give credit for the right that’s been done while not feeling fully confident the Knicks are out of the woods yet. Mills and Perry have done well to this point doesn’t mean there aren’t more ditches that need to be avoided to truly consider the organization on the right path. 

Charlie:

They could stay the course, draft a nice 3-and-D wing this summer, try and make some sense out of their logjam at center and develop around Ntilikina, Burke, Hardaway, Dotson and, when he returns, Porzingis. That will tell us they’re on the right path. Or they could make yet another short-sighted quick-fix move—a splashy trade offer for Kawhi Leonard and his highly-suspect quadricep, maybe—and prove that nothing’s really changed at all.

Like I said before, we’ll learn an awful lot from their next move.

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