GREENBURGH, N.Y. — This season’s Knicks squad wants to be tough, team-oriented and competitive despite not having a single superstar on the team.
So maybe it made sense to see former Detroit Pistons center Ben Wallace, gray beard and all, on the practice floor Thursday chatting up the Knicks forwards and centers.
Wallace, a former four-time defensive player of the year who helped lead a superstar-less Pistons team to a championship in 2004, was invited to the practice by Knicks general manager Scott Perry. Perry was in the Pistons’ front office when Wallace was with the team.
“Man, I want this team to embody that kind of identity,” coach David Fizdale said. “Toughness, the will to win, competitiveness, the defensive mindset, the team mindset. He was one of the most selfless players in the league.
“You know, he spoke to our guys today. It was extremely powerful what he talked about, his experience and how he sees a lot of similarity to what we’re doing here to how they built it in Detroit.”
No one would say that the Knicks, who had the NBA’s worst record last season, are a budding Detroit circa 2004. Still, the message resonated with the Knicks, who have no marquee names but have added some tough, physical players who are motivated to go the extra mile, given that many of them are on one-year guaranteed contracts.
“That guy has done everything we want to do as players,” Julius Randle said of Wallace. “From the team standpoint, individual standpoint, the success he’s had. If you’re not listening, it’s foolish.”
Wallace was not available to the media, but Fizdale said that one of the things he stressed to the team is that you don’t need a superstar to have success.
“You aren’t a team of superstars. You’ve got to be a team,” Fizdale said. “He talked about everybody being willing to sacrifice and contribute to the team from the standpoint it could be someone different every night.”
Forward Taj Gibson said it was an appealing message for the team.
“It resonates because they went out there and they played together,” Gibson said. “They had a hungry group of guys overlooked their whole career. We got a bunch of guys that’s gonna go out there, be physical, be ruthless, play for the right things.”
Wallace wasn’t the only celebrity guest at practice Thursday. Kentucky coach John Calipari, in town on a recruiting trip, stopped by the practice and chatted with Perry, team president Steve Mills and others. Calipari coached Randle and Kevin Knox at Kentucky.
“I’m taking advantage of that,” Fizdale said. “We don’t have him here for long. But to have a guy like that with that kind of brain and understanding of the game, it’s good to talk ideas with.”
Notes & quotes: Dennis Smith Jr. (strained back) went through some contact in practice on Thursday but is doubtful for Friday’s preseason home opener against Washington. Knox (strained calf) is questionable and Bobby Portis (bruised rib) is probable.