It’s hard to imagine just how optimistic the mood has been around the Knicks as the team approaches the start of training camp on Monday, considering that not only hasn’t a game been played, but the expectations aren’t all that high for the coming season.
The patient approach to the rebuild is easier to take in the offseason before the losses have piled up and a young team looks like, well, a young team. But for the Knicks, preaching a process and gradually reshaping their roster to a young, hopeful bunch has made this season feel different from most — even if the result may be the same in the standings.
After Knicks executives Steve Mills and Scott Perry gave their state of the team introductions Thursday and it was David Fizdale’s turn, the new coach opted for a more simple message.
“Let’s go!” he shouted.
As the laughter died down, he added, “We talked enough this summer. It’s time to get training camp going. Our guys are excited. I know our staff is bouncing off the walls right now ready to get after it. I’m ready to go. I’m really excited about this. Just because what these guys just said. We had a heck of a summer. Just the commitment of our guys in getting in the gym and putting in the sweat equity. And now we’re ready to go.”
Well, the players may have worked hard, but the work of the front office in the summer mainly was to maintain a status quo — a payroll with room to chase free agents next summer — and begin a shift to young, athletic players who can compete in the current state of the NBA, which features an emphasis on versatility and the ability to play multiple positions.
The Knicks don’t know when — or if — they will have their star centerpiece, Kristaps Porzingis, available to play as he rehabilitates from the ACL tear he suffered last February. A handful of veterans remain as holdovers, including Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee and Enes Kanter, but the focus is on preparing the core of kids for the future.
Playing time and, more important, player development will fall into the hands of Fizdale. He is tasked with getting the most out of rookies Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson, second-year point guard Frank Ntilikina and a quartet of former lottery picks whom the Knicks have brought in as low-cost, low-risk reclamation projects.
While the changes to the roster have given Fizdale a more athletic group to implement his plans, he still has to balance the development process with wins — or at least teaching the players how to seek wins.
“It’s pretty easy, I think, from the standpoint of we have a young roster so those guys are going to play,” Fizdale said. “I think it’s what you emphasize in practice, the environment you create, the defensive-minded coaching that you’re going to put forth. When you put that on the floor, I feel like it’s going to give us a chance with everybody.
“If we do it every single day the right way and we build those habits, those professional championship habits, every single day and treat each other the right way along that process, I just feel like we’ll be able to compete.”
“That’s the exciting part of watching this group come together,” Mills added. “These young guys, because they are growing and developing not only physically on a daily basis but mentally, that’s the exciting part of where we’re at right now. Looking forward to evaluating and watching that process as we move forward.”
1. Is Kevin Knox ready for prime time?
Having just turned 19 years old with one season at Kentucky, Knox is being projected as a likely starter. Unlike Frank Ntilikina last season, Knox has been healthy and able to play through summer league and work with his new teammates to be ready for training camp.
2. When will Kristaps appear?
The guesses on a Kristaps Porzingis return range from Christmas Day at Madison Square Garden to February, a year after suffering the torn ACL, to the start of training camp a year from now.
3. Are the kids all right?
While Knox will get tested, the Knicks need to begin to get grades on Frank Ntilikina, who struggled offensively much of his rookie season. The lottery pick underachievers the Knicks have taken fliers on — Trey Burke, Emmanuel Mudiay, Mario Hezonja and Noah Vonleh — will get a chance to show if they have found their way.