Head coach David Fizdale of the New York Knicks reacts...

Head coach David Fizdale of the New York Knicks reacts during the first half against the Chicago Bulls at Madison Square Garden on Monday, Nov. 5, 2018 in New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Through his time as an assistant coach in Miami and other stops, David Fizdale developed a reputation as a players’ coach, forging lasting relationships with stars and scrubs alike.

In his first season as a head coach, he seemed to cement that reputation when his news conference after a postseason loss went viral as he passionately defended his Memphis Grizzlies players against the referees with a declaration of “take that for data.”

Then, only 19 games into his second season as a head coach, it was all over. Perhaps most surprising, troubles with his star player sent it all crumbling to the ground.

On Nov. 27, 2017, Fizdale was dismissed in the wake of a gaping rift between Marc Gasol and himself, a contest that the Grizzlies decided was no contest at all.

“It was a bad move,” one Grizzlies official said earlier this season of Fizdale’s conflict with Gasol. “He made a mistake and he won’t make it again.”

Fizdale admitted as much when the Knicks gave him another chance to be a head coach. He confessed to pushing the veteran Grizzlies squad too hard and insisted that he had learned lessons that he would apply to this new job.

He will get an opportunity to show his progress as he returns to Memphis with the Knicks for a Sunday evening matchup.

“I haven’t even really had time to think about it, to be honest with you,” Fizdale said. “But I don’t want to put too much stock in that. I know people are going to make it a story, but this is much more about my kids just continuing to take steps forward.

“I’ve got a lot of people still in Memphis that I really love and care about. And I root for them. Obviously, not when we play them. But I don’t want it to be all about that. I want to keep on track with my guys and keep my guys growing.”

His team’s 6-14 record doesn’t reflect well on his efforts in New York, but Fizdale constantly has pushed the idea that this season isn’t about wins and losses. The player development of the young team is the most important measuring stick for the Knicks, although that has taken a back seat this week with the trio of rookies going back to the bench after two starts together as a group.

With a slightly more veteran cast being given a larger role, the Knicks have won two straight games for the first time this season and played well in three straight against some of the best teams in the NBA. That provides a slight measure of respect for Fizdale as he returns to Memphis.

“That’s better. Yeah, I didn’t want to walk in there being just miserable,” he said. “But that doesn’t guarantee anything. You’ve got to go in there and compete.”

Fizdale would be only human to feel a twinge of regret. The Grizzlies are tied for the top spot in the Western Conference with a 12-6 record and Gasol is enjoying a prime season at 33 years old — stepping up his shooting percentage from inside and outside the arc and increasing his rebounding from last season.

But you won’t hear Fizdale mouth a disparaging word about Gasol. Earlier in his Knicks tenure, he said they have patched up their poor ending. And of the man who replaced him, J.B. Bickerstaff, he has only praise.

“J.B. Bickerstaff is an early Coach of the Year candidate to me, what he’s doing with those guys,” Fizdale said. “I really like the pieces they added to that team, and obviously Marc and Mike [Conley] are leading the way with that group. It’ll be a tough game for us on the road. Hopefully a little bit of road success that we’re just having can carry over.”

On Saturday, Gasol told reporters: “I’m a better player because of David, too. I can say that 100 percent. Even though last year was really tough for everyone, I’m a better player this year than I was last year, and a lot had to do with him . . .

“Every coach you have, I think it adds tools to your toolbox. And they all bring different things to the table and you have to be humble enough and smart enough to learn from it. You might not see it right away, maybe it takes you a little bit of time. But I learned a lot from David and I’m thankful for that.”

Even if Fizdale won’t express any bitterness about how his time in Memphis ended, his current players will take up his cause. While the players have seen their roles juggled, most have expressed faith in what the coach has done for them.

“I don’t know if it means something to him, but it means something to me for him,” Emmanuel Mudiay said. “We definitely want to get the win for him. He’s our coach now. I know I’m going to take it somewhat personally for him.”

“I think a lot of people were kind of concerned why he got let go out there,” Trey Burke said. “This is the first time he’s going to be going up against his former team. So as players, of course we want to go in there and get a win for him.”

In the wake of Fizdale’s firing, reports surfaced that his disrespect for Gasol’s accomplishments overseas created tension, a feeling exacerbated by the struggles of the team.

In his new job, there is nothing more vital than Fizdale’s relationship with another European big man, Kristaps Porzingis.

After taking the job, Fizdale flew to Latvia this past summer to forge a bond with his rehabilitating star. Gasol spoke with Porzingis during the summer and he believes that the lessons learned even in the painful split will serve Fizdale well.

“The only thing is you live, you learn and you move on, and things don’t happen again,” Gasol said. “To me, that’s what’s important is we both learn from last season. We’re both better professionals, better people, and that’s the most important thing.

“I think what happened or how it happened, it’s now irrelevant, because the one thing you cannot change is the past. But you can change how you behave in the future and how you react to certain things.”

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