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Knicks players saddened by decision to let David Fizdale go

Interim head coach Mike Miller of the Knicks

Interim head coach Mike Miller of the Knicks looks on in the first half against the Indiana Pacers at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Mike Miller climbed up the stairs into the media conference room in the bowels of Madison Square Garden, quietly saying hello as he walked past the assembled reporters to face questions, to explain just how he got here.

Just two months into his first NBA assistant coaching job, he was promoted to serve as interim head coach Friday when the Knicks parted ways with David Fizdale after practice. He inherits the task of trying to guide a team that fell to 4-19 with a 104-103 loss to the Pacers on Saturday night.

“Well, I have no sense of time right now,” Miller said, trying to explain when he got the word. “It was [Friday] afternoon. Where we have really pushed all the focus is with the players and the staff to work on what we talked about. Let’s get ready for this game. Let’s play more consistent on both sides of the ball.”

He preached consistency as a goal over and over again, just not the type of consistency the Knicks have displayed during the last two seasons, when they won only 21 of 104 games under Fizdale. For the Knicks, just over 24 hours from the time Fizdale was cut loose with more than two years remaining on his contract, it was time to move on.

Some of the players still were at the practice facility when Fizdale got the word. Team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry met with those players and let them know what had happened. They also called others and let them know there would be a new voice leading the team. And for those who were there, they had a chance to say goodbye to Fizdale.

“It’s been tough,” Marcus Morris said. “Fiz is my guy. We had a big relationship off the court. He’s been very influential in my decision for free agency. But at the end of the day, it’s a business. I know Fiz understands that. We talked afterwards and we talked during the season — if something like that happened, his biggest thing was you’ve still got to keep going, still got to come in here and work, don’t feel sorry for him and things like that.”

Morris had called a players-only meeting in the morning ahead of practice Friday. The message, ironically, was that Fizdale should not be taking the blame for what the players were not getting done on the court.

“It was like a normal day,” Taj Gibson said. “We had a strong practice. We got the news Coach was fired. I was one of the guys lucky enough to go give him a hug and tell him I appreciate everything he’s done for me, I appreciate him being my coach. That was it.

“One thing about Fiz, he’s always on point. He was always more focused on keeping guys ready, keeping guys ready, keeping guys focused on becoming strong young men and be ready to adjust to whatever is thrown at you. He was still motivating. He hugged me, he teared up a little bit. We had a good relationship. He told us to keep playing, he’s going to keep watching and keep guys motivated and keep going strong.”

Asked if Fizdale had the support of the players, Gibson said, “Guys loved him. Guys respected him. That’s what I saw.”

“It’s tough. Especially from my perspective,” Dennis Smith Jr. said. “You know, that’s a brother that lost his job. He’s out of work. So I definitely feel for him deeply. We didn’t want it to fall on him. We talked about that actually, like, we’ve got to start taking responsibility because he’ll stand up in front of y’all and take all the bullets for all of us. It’s not a hundred percent on him, so it was definitely tough.”

Rookie RJ Barrett was asked if it was odd to see the coach get let go after running practice. “I have no idea. I just got here,” he said. “I don’t know how these things work.”

Said Miller, who served as the coach of the team’s G League affiliate in Westchester for the previous four years:  “It’s been a day. So we’ve really focused on, as we’ve gotten into it, just really preparing for this game.”

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