SAN ANTONIO — David Fizdale was busy Tuesday evening in Indiana, preparing the Knicks for what would be their latest loss, when Madison Square Garden executive chairman and Knicks owner James Dolan threw down what amounts to a gauntlet for the front office — and the coach — for the summer.
Dolan expressed assurances that the Knicks will collect free-agent stars with the two max-contract slots they expect to have. That will fall to the group left to serve as salesmen — team president Steve Mills, general manager Scott Perry and Fizdale.
Fizdale said that despite his team’s 13-55 record and portrayals of the franchise’s long-suffering struggles, he believes the culture is changing and that the Knicks will be an attractive destination to the stars.
“Well, the beauty of it, the thing that I always — as much as I love you guys — I try to have my baseline on people that are having to make decisions around the league when they look at our team,” Fizdale said after the team’s practice session Thursday. “All of the feedback that we’ve gotten is young kids have gotten better, our guys compete their butts off. We set ourselves up big-time for a great future and that’s what I’m listening to when I talk to my friends around the league and the feedback that I’m getting.”
The Knicks are counting on that. While Mills and Perry have been cautious in their approach to the summer, Dolan said, “New York is the mecca of basketball. We hear from people all the time, from players, representatives. It’s about who wants to come. We can’t respond because of the NBA rules, but that doesn’t stop them from telling us, and they do. I can tell you from what we’ve heard, I think we’re going to have a very successful offseason when it comes to free agents.”
The Knicks originally had put out a plan of adding the talent to a core based around Kristaps Porzingis, but with the trade that sent him to Dallas, they now are counting on the outside help to be the centerpiece of any turnaround.
“Well, since we’ve been here, I’m hoping that’s the case, that the relationships and what we’re building here will attract people,” Fizdale said. “But right now I’m so far away from that, guys, I’m like in a darkroom right now with these guys. I’ve got a lot of things I’m trying to clean up and teach these young guys. Free agency for me is like millions of miles away.”
“It’s a great town, it’s a sports town,” said DeAndre Jordan, who came over in the Porzingis deal. “Basketball’s big there. The fans are amazing. They’re also critical, which is good. I think it’s a great place to play basketball.
“Fiz is trying to create a culture, a culture of winning, a culture of habits, doing things the right way. Losing and winning. It’s a process. That’s something that he’s trying to instill in the young guys. It’s really good to see.”