INDIANAPOLIS — The Knicks had a day off Monday, a breather to allow them to step back from the six-game losing streak, a three-game road trip and the 13-54 season. But it’s not over yet -- the trip or the season.
The Knicks have 15 games remaining and are on a path to the worst season in franchise history. As they drag the carcass of this season to the finish line, wins have little meaning and so do the accomplishments of individuals, given that much of the roster will be gone by summer in the efforts to clear cap space and make over the team.
So what is there left to play for down the stretch?
What Knicks first-year coach David Fizdale is hoping for is enough hard work and effort to give the few players who return a sense of how to make things better in the future.
“Consistency,” Fizdale said. “I’m still trying to fight them to get 48 minutes in of consistent effort, communication, connection. Want to see guys advance in their roles.”
There has been little effort to hide that this season has never been about the current group of players. The Knicks acquired through trades and free agency a group of castoffs who had one common trait — expiring contracts.
The Knicks have seven players with expiring contracts and two more with low-cost or no guarantees for next season. That doesn’t include the four players who already have been cast off while the team continues to pay them (Joakim Noah, Enes Kanter, Wes Matthews and Ron Baker). Kristaps Porzingis was traded away and the most important players for next season are a lottery pick and a pair of stars in free agency (they hope).
What Fizdale is watching for is baby steps from the few players who figure to be a part of the future — Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, Dennis Smith Jr., Allonzo Trier, Damyean Dotson and maybe Frank Ntilikina.
“I thought [on Sunday] Kevin had a much better offensive game, much more comfortable, fluid game,” Fizdale said. “Mitchell Robinson continues to be Mitchell Robinson. Almost had a double-double with the five blocks. I thought Zo and Dennis both played well. Then obviously Dot did what he did [26 points]. That’s what I’m really looking for, especially from those young guys. Can they keep taking steps forward, limiting mistakes — which we didn’t [Sunday] — and growing in those fundamental areas that we’re going to need them to be good at next year?“
“We’ve got a lot to learn about the league, collectively,” Smith said. “We have so much to learn individually that as a collective unit, we’re behind the curve compared to other teams. Not really using that as an excuse. I mean, that’s just reality. On the bright side, our competition level is there.”
The mistakes with this young group are plentiful and, as evidenced by the record, they are not good enough to win in the NBA. Maybe they can be as pieces alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the front office’s most ambitious dreams. For now, Fizdale just hopes for hard work through this final stretch.
“For the most part, I’ve been really happy with that with our team all year,” he said. “I think we’ve established ourselves as a team that’s going to play hard and compete. I know that there are lulls in the game that we take a punch or something like that and they feel sorry for themselves, get in that mode where, ‘Oh, man, here we go.’
“But we always seem to bounce back out of that and keep fighting. So that’s the part that I’m OK with. Our guys are fighters and scrappers. It’s the fundamentals of it, getting shots, don’t turn the ball over, making your open shots, not breaking down on communications in the switch. Those are the little areas that we’ve got to tighten up. But from a competitive standpoint, these kids fight. Most nights they are there fighting their tails off.”