The Knicks have picked the person they believe is the right man to lead them through their rebuild. David Fizdale will be their next coach.
The two sides have reached an agreement in principle, a league source confirmed Thursday. ESPN reported that Fizdale will sign a four-year deal.
He will become the first coaching hire of the Steve Mills-Scott Perry regime, ending an extensive search that featured 11 known interviews. An official announcement and news conference introducing Fizdale as the Knicks’ coach is expected next week.
Fizdale, 43, spent a little more than a season coaching the Memphis Grizzlies. Before that, he was an assistant coach with the Miami Heat and won two NBA championships while building strong relationships with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
A rift between Fizdale and Grizzlies star Marc Gasol led to Fizdale’s dismissal 19 games into the 2017-18 season. He guided the Grizzlies to the playoffs last season and was 50-51 overall with Memphis.
Knicks president Mills and general manager Perry must not be concerned about Fizdale connecting with Kristaps Porzingis. They also may be hoping that Fizdale will be able to help them lure James to the Knicks. He can be a free agent this summer.
When the Knicks’ two lead executives announced the firing of Jeff Hornacek last month, they said they were looking for a coach with strong defensive principles who can relate to today’s players, develop them and hold them accountable. It sounded as if they wanted a young coach who can grow with the franchise.
Fizdale fits that, but because he doesn’t have vast head-coaching experience, former Knicks coach Mike Woodson could return to the team as an associate head coach. Fizdale worked four years as an assistant under Woodson when he was the head coach of the Hawks.
Wade gave Fizdale a ringing endorsement when the Heat visited the Garden at the end of the season and said he was very hands-on in developing players.
“He’s a phenomenal coach,” Wade said. “One thing he’s going to bring to a team is his work ethic. He has a great offensive mind, but he has defensive principles with the Miami Heat [that] Pat Riley has instilled in every coach that’s come here.
“He’s a good manager of personalities as well. The sky’s the limit for whatever organization is going to get him and give him an opportunity to really put his fingerprints on an opportunity for a long time.”
The Knicks are coming off a 29-53 season and have not qualified for the playoffs for five straight years. Barring fantastic luck in the NBA Draft Lottery, some unexpected big moves in the offseason and Porzingis returning far sooner from a torn ACL than anyone imagined, their streak of missing the playoffs could extend to six years.
They are a young team that has declared it is building around Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Frank Ntilikina and will add a top 10 pick this year.
But Mills and Perry talked about being patient and building something sustainable. Part of that is having continuity, something this team has lacked.
Fizdale is the Knicks’ 11th head coach or interim head coach in the past 16 years. He’s the sixth since the start of the 2011-12 season. In the past 17 seasons, the Knicks have had a winning record three times and won one playoff series.
Mills and Perry are aware of the history and hope they can begin to provide some stability for a franchise that sorely needs it.
They started their coaching search a few days after the regular season ended and are known to have met with 11 candidates in Europe, Los Angeles, Milwaukee and New York.
The Knicks also met with Jerry Stackhouse, Mark Jackson, Kenny Smith, Mike Budenholzer, Jay Larranaga, David Blatt, James Borrego, Juwan Howard, Mike Brown and Woodson. Mills and Perry flew to Europe to sit down with Blatt.
Mills and Perry interviewed candidates who have been a part of winning systems and teams. Brown is an assistant with the Golden State Warriors, Larranaga with the Boston Celtics, Borrego with the San Antonio Spurs and Howard with the Heat. Budenholzer served 17 years as an assistant under Spurs coach Gregg Popovich — and won four NBA championships — before a successful run as Hawks coach. Jackson coached the Warriors to the playoffs twice in three years. Blatt is a top European coach who reached the NBA Finals in his first season in Cleveland. Stackhouse is a part of the Raptors’ system and guided their G League team to the championship round the past two seasons.
Blatt, who played with Mills at Princeton, and Budenholzer were the most accomplished coaches who were interviewed. Budenholzer, the 2014-15 NBA Coach of the Year, became a surprise candidate after he and the Hawks mutually decided to part ways.
But the Knicks believed Fizdale was the best man for this job.
Birthplace: Los Angeles
College: University of San Diego
Head coach: Memphis Grizzlies
Playoff trips: 1
Assistant coach: Miami Heat, 2008-2016; Atlanta Hawks, 2004-2008; Golden State Warriors, 2003-04
College assistant: Fresno State, 2002-2003; University of San Diego, 1998-2002
“Take that for data.” — Fizdale concluding a rant about free-throw disparity following a playoff loss to San Antonio last year.