CHICAGO — David Fizdale’s main priorities this summer are to connect with Kristaps Porzingis and create a winning culture and environment that brings out the best in the Knicks’ franchise player.
Fizdale said his plan is to fly to Europe “maybe multiple times” and spend a lot of time with Porzingis this offseason, and make him feel good about what he’s returning to in the fall.
“I want him to feel something different,” Fizdale said Thursday at the NBA Draft Combine. “I want him to feel something that when he comes back here it’s going to be special for him. He’s walking back into a culture and environment that’s set up for winning.
“That’s my biggest goal this summer is to really bond with him and connect with him and get insight from him. His experiences. What he liked. What he didn’t like. What he’d like to see. What’s his goals? Does he see himself as a guy who can be MVP one day? Defensive Player of the Year? I want to hear all that stuff and share with him my vision on how to get him there.”
The Knicks new coach’s approach could go a long way with Porzingis, whose relationship with the organization hasn’t been great. In the past no head coach or executive had flown to Europe to be with Porzingis in the offseason. Former Knicks assistant Josh Longstaff did, but he was fired last offseason.
Porzingis skipped his exit meeting in 2017. Shortly after this season ended, Porzingis flew to Europe, where he’s rehabbing from a torn left ACL with his own training staff and not the Knicks’.
But Fizdale understands the importance of having a strong relationship with the star player, especially after differences with Marc Gasol led to his firing 19 games into his second season as Memphis Grizzlies coach.
Fizdale said in his 10 days since becoming Knicks coach, he’s been reaching out to players, working on the draft and assembling his staff.
Former Miami Heat and Grizzlies assistant Keith Smart is expected to join Fizdale’s staff. Former Heat scout Pat Delaney is another possibility, according to multiple sources.
The Knicks will pick ninth in the June 21 draft. They began interviewing prospects Wednesday. It was the first time that Fizdale, who left the combine Thursday, was a part of that process and called it educational.
“You look at the players just last year’s draft that was in that range of players, there’s a lot of talent that’s landing in there,” Fizdale said. “These guys have a great template on how we’re going to attack it. They involve me in the process and let me learn. I’ve never been through the interview process like that before.
“To see how the questions are geared toward our vision and learning what player fits that vision, I think we’ll end up finding a really good basketball player there.”
In speaking about the Knicks’ roster, Fizdale said they need a wing. He also likes players with versatility and toughness.
Fizdale met with Enes Kanter Wednesday night in Chicago. Kanter has an $18.6-million player option for next season, and seems to be a bit torn on what to do.
Kanter tweeted Thursday a picture of himself with his body twisted and wrote, “my legs telling me opt out my body’s telling me opt in.” Fizdale said he’s preparing as if Kanter will be back.
“As of today, he’s ours,” Fizdale said. “That’s how I look at it. He’s a Knick. Until I’m notified otherwise.
“He could have been fooling me but he seemed excited and like he’s really looking forward to this fresh start. The guy’s a heck of a player and he fits the toughness part of what we’re talking about.”