The Knicks have clung steadfastly to their plan to build patiently this time, resisting the urge to grab for the quick fix, even if it’s a star like Jimmy Butler leaking hints that Madison Square Garden is one of his preferred destinations.
And that is one thing for the front office executives to preach in theory, but another for David Fizdale, the coach tasked with standing on the sideline through the hard times of the process and left to answer the questions about it every day. But as the Knicks prepare for the start of camp, Fizdale sat on a stage Thursday between team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry at the Garden's Hulu Theater and insisted he is willing to embrace the slow build with one caveat.
“The best part for me, when we sat down at our interview, the first words they said to me were ‘Tank? We will not ever tank,’ ” Fizdale said. “And that’s what resonated to me the most in our dealings because that’s the first thing they said to me, to go out and try to win every game. That made me feel great.
“We know where we are with our young guys. But the fact that we are preaching to them and teaching that every game is important to win, that’s what matters to me.”
The Knicks may not take an approach that includes tanking in terms of actually not trying to win games, but they are putting a roster in Fizdale’s hands that is not built for today. Kristaps Porzingis is sidelined while rehabilitating from a torn ACL in his left knee, which could be a matter of months or the entire season. The other potential stars are just that -- potential stars, 20-year-old Frank Ntilikina and 19-year-old rookie Kevin Knox.
The front office spent the summer determined not to add contracts extending beyond this coming season, eschewing the opportunity to chase established pieces and instead bringing in underachieving former lottery picks Mario Hezonja and Noah Vonleh to fill the roster. While Butler could be had now from the Timberwolves for the right trade package, the Knicks instead seem determined to play a waiting game until next summer.
With that sort of project in his first year in New York, Fizdale is focusing on developing the young future core of the franchise.
“At the end of the day we’re together,” Fizdale said. “This is a full-fledged plan that we are all coming together. We’ve had so many talks about the process that we want to take and the plan that we set forth, how we want to build it from the ground up culturally, like the way Steve is talking about. We don’t want to jump at the shiny things. We want to make solid decisions and be patient, and I’m a big part of that patience. So if I get rattled, start trying to nudge these guys, I’m too big a chunk to disrupt that process. I’m locked into developing these kids and pouring in everything I have into that.”
Perry said: “We believe in this philosophy and the direction we’re taking this organization and we’re excited about it ... Obviously, in our conversations with David when we hired him, development is going to be big and we all understood the stage we’re at. We check each other to make sure we stay on course."
Mills spoke of the development coming from every person in the building, from the secretary to the training staff to the player development personnel. But it is Fizdale who cannot pass the buck and will absorb the wins and losses along the way.
He spent a week in Latvia with Porzingis, creating a baseline of a relationship with the young star who had his issues with the prior regime. Fizdale also has overseen the budding growth of this year’s rookie crop of Knox and second-rounder Mitchell Robinson.
“It’s pretty easy, I think, from the standpoint of we have a young roster so those guys are going to play,” Fizdale said. “I think it’s what you emphasize in practice, the environment you create, the defensive-minded coaching that you’re going to put forth. When you put that on the floor, I feel like it’s going to give us a chance with everybody.”