New Knicks coach David Fizdale said he would connect with players and declared his main goals this offseason were building a strong relationship with Kristaps Porzingis and making him feel that he would be returning to a winning environment.
Fizdale appears to be off to a good start.
Porzingis, who is overseas training and rehabbing from a torn left ACL, tweeted that he’s “excited” after speaking to Fizdale Thursday.
“Just had a great conversation on the phone with Coach Fiz,” Porzingis tweeted. “Man im excited!!!!! Lets gooo!!!”
Fizdale has been making the rounds since being named Knicks coach just over two weeks ago.
He met with Enes Kanter last week while in Chicago for the NBA’s pre-draft combine. On Wednesday, Fizdale took Frank Ntilikina, Emmanuel Mudiay and Damyean Dotson to Boston for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Cavaliers and Celtics.
Fizdale’s conversation with Porzingis was the first of what could be many before training camp starts. Fizdale said he plans to fly to Europe “maybe multiple times” to spend time with Porzingis as he tries to forge a relationship with the Knicks’ franchise player.
It’s critical for Fizdale and for the Knicks for this to happen. Fizdale lost his job in Memphis after butting heads with Marc Gasol. Porzingis has had some issues with the Knicks’ organization. He skipped his exit meeting in April 2017 because of frustration over the direction of the franchise.
His brother and agent, Janis Porzingis, also told a Latvian magazine early last season that there were no guarantees Kristaps would sign an extension with the Knicks just because they can offer the most money.
They want to see the Knicks, who have lost at least 50 games all three seasons Porzingis has played for them, start building a contender. Fizdale reportedly met with Janis Porzingis this week, and has said he sees big things for the Knicks with Kristaps as the cornerstone.
“I want him to feel something different,” Fizdale said last week. “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.”
Fizdale also is working on putting his coaching staff together. Keith Smart, who was Fizdale’s lead assistant in Memphis, is expected to join him with the Knicks. Lakers assistant Jud Buechler and Clippers assistant Pat Sullivan also have been talking to the Knicks about positions on the bench.