Get a feel for who David Fizdale has assembled as his coaching staff, the people in charge of molding the talent on the Knicks roster.
The Knicks have talent this year, but it’s mismatched: a hodgepodge of bully-ball big men and raw perimeter players. Which means the team’s biggest question is arguably not the players but the coaching staff. Can David Fizdale and his staff find the right rotation and focus development efforts on the right lineups and playing style?
Let’s take a look at the coaches on this team, and what their roles are.
This all comes back to the brash head coach.
Fizdale has an established pedigree prior to landing with the Knicks. He served as an assistant coach from 2003 to 2016 with the Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Hawks, and Miami Heat, where he built a reputation as a respected voice in the league.
That level of clout carried over when he took over as head coach for the “Grit ‘n Grind” Memphis Grizzlies in 2016. Fizdale became known for inspiring his players to bust their asses on defense and to have the mental capacity to slog through rock-fights on the other end. He even became a meme when, after a playoff loss against the refs, Fizdale unleashed a notorious tirade against the refs ending with the most iconic moment of his career.
When Fizdale’s widely reported beef with Marc Gasol led to his firing from Memphis, the prospect of bringing him in felt like the first warm day after a long winter in New York. Knicks fans had suffered through two seasons of the impotent Jeff Hornacek, and were ready for anyone with a little swagger and conviction to them.
Fizdale was that guy. He still is. Now, however, there are real questions about whether he can fashion a modern NBA offense. The noise about whether he can find the right lineups with a group this year that is both deep and an awkward fit around each other is more than audible now, after some disturbing comments about starting Elfrid Payton.
There’s no doubt Fizdale is one of the better “rah-rah” coaches in the league. There is a lot of uncertainty as to whether that’s enough anymore.
No, not that Mike Miller.
Coach Mike Miller enters this season as the newest coach on this staff. He got his first head coaching jobs at Texas State and Eastern Illinois, two low-rung Division I NCAA program, before transitioning into the professional scene as an assistant coach on the Spurs D League team (the league hadn’t renamed it the “G League” yet), the Austin Toros.
In 2015, Miller left the Toros to take on a head coaching job with the Knicks D League affiliate, the Westchester Knicks. Through four seasons with the Westchester Knicks, Miller has helped develop fringe talent into guys that earned a shot in the NBA, like John Jenkins and Kadeem Allen, who is still on the team. Miller won the G League’s Coach of the Year award in 2017–18 and finished his tenure with a 108-92 record.
It’s unclear what Miller’s exact role will be, but he has over two decades of experience on coaching staffs in Division I basketball and the NBA G League, so he figures to be a veteran voice in this locker room.
Things never worked out for Smart as a head coach in the NBA.
He went 36-46 in his first full year as a head coach for Golden State in 2010–11 (also Stephen Curry’s first year as a full-time starter). That team notoriously had Monta Ellis at the peak of “Monta Ball,” and also featured a (really short) cameo from rookie Jeremy Lin!
Things didn’t get much better when he was let go and was hired as an assistant coach for the Sacramento Kings in 2011, a shortened lockout year. Despite having a sophomore DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings went 20-39 (this team also had a rookie Isaiah Thomas, a second-year Hassan Whiteside, a third-year Tyreke Evans, and a rookie Jimmer Fredette!). After head coach Paul Westphal was fired, Sacramento gave Smart a full season with the keys to the kingdom (pun unintended), but he turned in more of the same, finishing 28-54, and they fired him that summer.
Since then, Smart has bounced from the Heat to the Grizzlies, where he first met Fizdale and established a good working relationship together before porting it over to the Knicks.
Little known fact about Jud Buechler: while attending Poway High School in the 1980’s, Buechler was a top basketball recruit (eventually playing for Arizona University) and a top-50 volleyball prospect.
As an NBA player, Jud was a stud. He was a three-point specialist with size at 6-foot-6 and, along with former college teammate Steve Kerr, offered a useful one-two shooting punch for the Chicago Bulls’ second three-peat.
He joined the Knicks staff last season after two seasons on the Lakers.
Did you know Canales was the last head coach the Portland Trail Blazers had before Terry Stotts? Me neither.
Canales was initially hired as a video intern for the Blazers in 2005 but was promoted in 2009 as an official assistant coach for the team. When the organization fired Nate McMillan in 2012, Canales took over as interim coach and went 8-15. The team then signed Stotts that summer, but Canales stayed on the assistant coaching staff.
In 2013, Canales accepted a job with the Dallas Mavericks, where he worked for five years before beginning his position with the Knicks in 2018.
Ivey is a hometown kid. Born in Harlem, Ivey attended Benjamin N. Cardozo High School in Queens, and established himself as a solid young player, eventually landing at the University of Texas.
Ivey would go on to get drafted by the Atlanta Hawks in 2004, and have a 10-year career in the NBA before retiring to join the Oklahoma City D League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue.
In 2016, Ivey was promoted to assistant coach on the Oklahoma City Thunder. In 2018, the Knicks signed him to be a part of Fizdale’s coaching staff. It’s unclear what his role on this team is, but he is the youngest person on the staff and officially retired from playing only a few years ago.
He should be someone younger players can turn to for more practical advice off the court.
Pat Sullivan is another guy who grew up not far from Knicks basketball, in Bogota, New Jersey.
Sullivan went on to leave the East Coast to become a part of NCAA greatness, playing in 118 games for the University of North Carolina from 1990–95. He was a real part of the rotation that beat the University of Michigan in 1992–93 to win a national title.
And at 6-foot-8, Sullivan is apparently a big-man whisperer of sorts, according to Fizdale, who connected with Sullivan years ago through Mike Woodson.
“He’s one of the best guys with working with bigs in the league,” Fizdale said about Sullivan when the Knicks hired him. “He’s one of the better defensive minded coaches in this league and well-respected from the different trees that he’s been a part of.”
This coaching staff, like the team, is young in the sense that they haven’t had many years to gel together. With exception to Miller, who enters his first season on the staff, every other coach is in their second year with the team.
For some fans, that may assuage fears that an old-fashioned coaching staff might try and pigeonhole players that need looser guidance. For others, all this youth exacerbates the suspicion that no one in this organization has the requisite experience to lead the Knicks in the right direction.