CHICAGO — As the Knicks finished up their morning shootaround, Kevin Knox lined up as a quarterback, launching a long pass to a cutting Damyean Dotson on the other end of the court with Dennis Smith Jr. serving as a defensive back. The trash talking and laughter loudly echoed through the empty United Center.
At a glance it might seem like the Knicks were 8-2 and coasting near the top of the NBA instead of where they are, entering a game Tuesday night against the Bulls with an NBA-worst 2-8 record and the usual amount of chaos and blame shifting surrounding them. It's a familiar place for the franchise.
The Knicks were on the road for a brief respite after the bizarre scene at Madison Square Garden Sunday when they were humiliated by the Cleveland Cavaliers and then team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry emerged in the news conference room to express the franchise’s dissatisfaction with the struggles. And next on the schedule is the return of Kristaps Porzingis to the Garden Thursday, which could stand as a reminder of the direction the team has taken.
The Knicks insisted that all of the noise happening off the court would not affect them on it.
“That’s our job,” Julius Randle said. “We’re here to play basketball for a living. You’ve got to keep it simple. You’ve got to keep everything in perspective. Playing in New York, I was in L.A. for four years so I’m used to this. I know how to handle this. I’ve been in chaos. A lot of my career has been chaos and outside noise. It is what it is but we’re focused on us. That’s all we can do.”
If it seemed awkward that Perry and Mills were on hand, seated courtside at the morning workout, after spending the postgame Sunday publicly spreading around the blame for the problems, it likely makes it no different than usual.
“They watch every shootaround,” coach David Fizdale said. “It’s no difference between this one and the last one. We’re always together. All of that stuff is noise to us. I’m focused on these guys and getting them better every single day.
“If anything, just being with my team and being in the gym, it’s a rhythm to it. I just go day to day with it every single day. And my focus is never on me. I think for everybody else it’s ‘Oh my God.’ But for coaches, we live in that. Our job is always a volatile thing. I just look at the preparation and who can I help get better and how do I help this team win a game.”
While winning a game would certainly help, it might not change things. ESPN reported Monday that Mills was already laying the groundwork to fire Fizdale. One NBA source said that in all corners of the organization people were trying to shift the blame in other directions — including toward Mills. And despite Mills' public claim Sunday night that “we have patience. We believe in Coach and we believe in the group that we put together,” the source said that candidates were already being lined up if Fizdale does take the fall. Former Knick and Golden State coach Mark Jackson, Jason Kidd (currently under contract as an assistant with the Lakers) and Chauncey Billups were names mentioned by the source.
“I don’t get into what’s fair and what’s not fair,” Fizdale said of being judged on a small sample size with this team. “All I care about is day to day. Am I helping these guys get better?”
It’s hard to argue that anything has gotten better with the Knicks, although that predates Fizdale’s arrival. He stuck to his story that he and the team were not deterred by the chaos.
“It’s always a media firestorm in New York,” Fizdale said. “For everybody else this is a big deal, but for us it’s normal environment. Our guys are focused. They’re connected … You see it in here. They’re not faking. This is how they are. I think up until the Dallas game I felt like we were playing really tight and really stressed out. I just had to get that pressure off of them.”