NEW ORLEANS — Perhaps the best idea for the Knicks right now would be to keep all sharp objects away from first-year coach David Fizdale. His lineup shuffling was intended to slow their struggles, but each move has seemed to make them worse.
Fizdale procured a motivational tool – an actual tool – by bringing an ax into the locker room, having the players sign it and hoping that it will hold them together in hard times. But it seems more likely right now that a player will either chop down a locker room in frustration or someone will lose a finger.
“My thing to these guys is what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to chop down a big tree,” Fizdale said. “If you're paying attention to if the tree is falling, you’re never going to get that tree down. We signed a covenant as a group, every guy. I said, ‘Hey, let’s make a commitment that no matter what happens that we stick together and we keep chopping this tree together.’
“So the ax is just a symbol of us chopping this tree. Every day putting in the work with the right attitude. The right respect for what we’re trying to accomplish. And not let things linger, but keeping our eyes on the task of getting better.”
And if things continue to head in the direction the Knicks are going now – three consecutive blowout losses and a failure to hold a lead for even a single possession in the last 10 quarters?
“That’s why I keep the rubber tip on it,” Fizdale said. “Just in case somebody don’t want to come after me, you know what I mean? Coach handles the playing time, so I might get chopped down or something. But I think it’s a good way to keep their mind on what’s the important thing, what’s the main thing, and that’s about us trying to get better every day.”
Fizdale said that after shuffling the lineup for Wednesday’s one-sided loss in Oklahoma City, he could tweak it again for Friday night’s game against the Pelicans. Rookie Mitchell Robinson, who has started since the sixth game of the season, suffered a sprained ankle Wednesday and didn’t practice Thursday. Growing up just minutes from downtown New Orleans and playing at Chalmette High School (which will play at Smoothie King Center on Friday afternoon), Robinson hopes to play in front of friends and family but could be held out.
Pulling Frank Ntilikina and Damyean Dotson from the starting lineup Wednesday didn’t give the team the jump-start Fizdale hoped for, and it was pointed out to him that the lineup he changed had performed well statistically.
“We weren’t winning, so it’s not like it was winning games for us,” Fizdale said. “We started to hit a point where we weren’t starting off the game right. That lineup throughout the game collectively was doing a good job overall, but the first six minutes of the game, that lineup started to really dwindle. I just said let’s see something else.
“Until we can see all of these things together from a combination standpoint, I don’t want to necessarily say, 'Hey, this is it,' because we’ve got a long season. This is going to be a long ride for us. So I want to make sure when we finally start to get close to saying we want to ride with this for a while that we’ve explored and exhausted everything.”