GREENBURGH, N.Y. — When the Knicks took the floor for the first official practice of training camp under David Fizdale there were the usual signs of day one — the exhausted players, the wrong place, wrong time mistakes and the growing pains for rookies and newcomers.
But Fizdale made sure that one thing was not in focus as camp began — starting jobs.
It might seem like a natural extension of a team coming off a 29-win season and facing the possibility of making their way through the entire season without their centerpiece, Kristaps Porzingis. Fizdale assured those who have been starters that nothing is assured and for the newcomers, there are no limits.
“That was the fun part of today,” Fizdale said. “They all have a little taste for going after it. I think the fairness of it is what creates that competition. If you have a fair shot to earn minutes and earn a starting spot. You can’t help but bring energy to that knowing you’re going to get a chance.”
If that took the breath away from most players, well, Fizdale provided a solution.
“I think everyone had a little nerves,” Knicks rookie Kevin Knox said. "My first official NBA practice so I was a little nervous. Fiz is doing a really good job making sure we learn how to breathe. So we did a breathing exercise that kind of helped me throughout the whole practice. . . . Before practice, he kind of has everyone line up and get into our breathing exercises. It kind of just calms our nerves, gets us to slow down a little bit before practice so we can easily think right and perform at a high level.”
That might sound a little like a leftover from the Phil Jackson era, but it was a welcome exercise for the players. The reality is that Porzingis might be the only one who deserves any assurances, but still, Enes Kanter almost certainly will be a starter at center and Tim Hardaway Jr. figures to start at either shooting guard or small forward. But everything else should be up for grabs with lottery pick Kevin Knox given the chance to take a job with off-the-charts potential, but at just 19 years old.
Knox, who was participating in his first real NBA practice, did face the same sort of prove yourself competition last year at the University of Kentucky with coach John Calipari rolling the ball out for a group of high school stars seeking to rise above the rest. He saw the same sort of thing on display Tuesday.
“You can definitely tell throughout the whole practice,” Knox said. “Nobody’s loafing. Nobody’s slacking off, no nothing. Everyone’s going at each other. That’s what’s going to make it competitive this year, this whole training camp. Every day we’re going to get after it, so I think Fiz’s message is nobody’s starting right now so everybody’s trying to work for that job.
“Nobody’s starting right now. He has no starters right now for Game 1 on Monday. So he’s basically telling us you’ve got to compete and you’ve got to fight for your job. It’s a good message for us. Now we have to come out and we’ve got to fight every day in practice.”
It wasn’t just new for the players, but for Fizdale, too. He had not run a practice since being fired by the Memphis Grizzlies after 19 games last season. So he might have been as excited as the players — more so considering he didn’t have to pass the fitness test and conditioning work he put the players through.
“It felt so good for me,” Fizdale said. “You don’t realize how much you miss it until you’re doing it again. Not that I didn’t appreciate it before but it gives you a new appreciation for being one of 30.”