It was about 90 minutes before game time that David Fizdale rattled off the Knicks lineup, placing all the three new players acquired this week into the starting five. While the lineup has been in a constant state of flux this season, this one seemed particularly tenuous.
The players had just arrived in New York after last Thursday’s blockbuster trade that sent Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee and Trey Burke to Dallas and finally got to spend one practice session with the Knicks Monday. But with this the last game ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline for the Knicks it was hard to predict that all three — or any player on the roster — would be here when the Knicks play again Friday.
In the final game before the deadline the Knicks continued along a familiar path, losing their 14th straight game, 105-92 to the Detroit Pistons, and their 22nd in the last 23 games. It was their 15th consecutive loss at Madison Square Garden. Welcome to New York and thanks for your efforts.
“I think around the NBA that’s a tough thing,” Fizdale said. “For all players, for all teams. When guys are worried about if they’re going to be with a team or not. But for this week for me, I’m just kind of riding waves and going with the flow of it. Making sure these young guys are up to speed with how this works. Constantly communicating to them how to navigate this as professionals and just using every moment we can as an education moment."
While the Knicks have praised the potential of second-year point guard Dennis Smith Jr. who arrives on a team-friendly rookie contract and led the team with 25 points Tuesday, the two veterans acquired in the deal — Wes Matthews and DeAndre Jordan — are on expiring contracts and have value around the league as playoff-tested solid contributors.
“It’s crazy how that worked out,” Smith said. “That was my last game with Dallas was playing against the Knicks and then they traded me. I just wish they would’ve did it before we got to play them the last time of the season. But coming in and being a leader, that’s just kind of how I am. That’s just kind of how I am. I’ve been like that my whole life. Being able to lead vocally, you’ve got to do the right things on and off the court in terms of putting your work in, and that’s what I’m all about. My teammates, I come in, I’ve got to earn their respect. The same way I did with the Mavericks, I’ve got to earn everybody’s respect regardless of the age. I think I’m doing a solid job of that.”
There have been rumors already around the league that there is interest in Matthews from numerous teams, whether by trade or as a candidate to be pursued after a buyout. But Jordan could at least stick out the season with the Knicks who have made little secret of their desire to have the 30-year-old center, twice an All-Defensive Team selection, serve as a mentor for rookie Mitchell Robinson.
After Jordan spent much of the warmup time long before the game speaking with his agent, Jeff Schwartz, Jordan went by Robinson, who shoved him like a little brother. The Knicks, while enduring a 10-43 season, on pace for the worst record in franchise history, have preached culture all season long. And Fizdale said that these new players have fit in quickly.
“I think these kids have already started, other than the winning,” Fizdale said. “How we work every day, the work ethic that we put into this, the way we work together, the way we treat each other, the way they compete, these are things that we really want to instill in the group and really establish with the building. I really feel like we’ve done that. The next thing is getting us to a place where we can start winning games.
“[The new players] fell right in. Today I walked by [Knicks assistant] Coach Kaleb [Canales'] office and Wes was watching Damyean Dotson’s offense with him. After practice the other day [Jordan] was already spending time with Mitchell. That’s a big part of what we do, serving each other and helping each other is a big part of our culture. These guys already get that, they’re falling in line with that.”