Courtney Lee didn’t play under David Fizdale in Memphis, but he looks forward to getting that chance with the Knicks.
Lee spent parts of three seasons with the Grizzlies and remains close with some Memphis players. He knows of the dispute that Fizdale had with center Marc Gasol that ultimately cost him his job early in the 2017-18 season. But Lee also has heard nothing but good things about the Knicks’ new coach. He believes holding your best player accountable shouldn’t be viewed as a negative.
“I just know that he’s a great players’ coach,” Lee said during a phone interview Friday. “He’s a guy that’s going to fight for what he believes in and fight for his team. He got that culture instilled in him in Miami. He was with [Erik] Spoelstra and with Pat Riley for a while. You saw the success they had in developing players and pushing for them playoff runs.
“Even in his time in Memphis, you can tell he was focused on a team or getting better — whether it was holding your best player accountable or your worst player accountable. He wasn’t afraid to be confrontational and get his message across. So that’s a quality I like about him.”
When asked specifically about the Gasol rift, Lee said, “I think that shows great leadership that he’s willing to put his job in jeopardy to try to do what’s best for the team or if he feels he has a disagreement with the best player on the team, he’s not afraid to go and express that to him.”
Fizdale, who is expected to be introduced as the Knicks’ coach at a news conference next week, coached only 101 games in Memphis, going 50-51. Fizdale guided the Grizzlies to the playoffs last year but was fired after a 7-12 start this season.
Lee said Knicks players were informed about Fizdale’s hiring via a group text before the news broke on Thursday. Lee said he spoke to president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry separately later in the day.
Fizdale, 43, has many of the characteristics that Mills and Perry described when they expressed what they were looking for in Jeff Hornacek’s replacement. They wanted someone with strong defensive principles who holds players accountable and can relate to them.
The Grizzlies finished seventh in defensive rating (107.1 points per 100 possessions) in Fizdale’s only full season as head coach. Fizdale, who was part of two NBA championship teams during his eight seasons in Miami, also has good relationships with players (other than Gasol), including LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
The James relationship already has fueled speculation that the Knicks will make a run at him either this summer or next. The Knicks will have the salary- cap room in the summer of 2019, but it will take some work for them to have any room this July.
They would need several things to happen, including Enes Kanter declining his $18.6-million player option and Lee being moved with little coming back in return. Lee, who has two years and $25 million left on his deal, is prepared to have his name come up in trade talks this offseason.
“It’s every summer, bro,” Lee said with a laugh. “I do what I do every offseason. I just enjoy my offseason, enjoy my family, get my body back healthy and feeling 100 percent and get back in shape and be ready for when the season starts. All that other stuff, I block it out as much as possible. I try not to pay attention to it and I let whatever happens happen.
“I would like to stay in New York, but it’s a business. I understand that. I try to stay away from it as much as possible and just focus on enjoying myself and my life during the offseason.”