So has anything changed?
The Knicks shifted lanes on Dec. 6, cutting ties with David Fizdale just 104 games into his tenure as head coach after assurances that he and the front office were closely aligned. In his place, team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry made Mike Miller the interim head coach.
With an eye on the team in 10-game increments, Miller has completed his first 10-game stretch. And while there has been some improvement — after a 4-18 start under Fizdale, Miller went 4-6 in his first 10 games and added a win over the Wizards on Saturday night to make it 5-6 — have things changed enough to provide optimism that the Knicks are on a better path?
Well, that’s hard to say for a number of reasons. The easiest right now is that Miller is an interim with little chance of sticking beyond this season in the top job because not only is he under pressure to show improvement, but so are the executives who put him in place.
Jeff Van Gundy is a fan of Miller’s and the last coach to bring the Knicks to the NBA Finals — and there already are comparisons in place because each was a basketball lifer with little hype when he got the job.
But Van Gundy had a future Hall of Famer in Patrick Ewing who not only was the centerpiece of the team but an advocate for the coach. Take a look at the Knicks’ roster and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a player with an All-Star appearance in his future, much less a Hall of Famer.
The record is better since Miller came aboard (assuming Miller doesn’t lose the next 12 games, which would even the coaches out). Fizdale had the 44- and 37-point losses in consecutive games to end his tenure. Miller has had three games in which the Knicks have trailed by at least 29 points along with the loss to the Wizards on Monday at Madison Square Garden, which might have been their worst of the season, as they fell behind by 17 points against a makeshift Wizards squad.
Mills and Perry have not spoken about Fizdale or Miller, but Miller said they have spoken with him and have been pleased with the direction of the team.
“I think what we talked about in the initial meetings and talks that we had that we find a consistent level that we play at and build from there,” Miller said. “You have to have a base and I hope that we’re getting there, where we have that base and we can build from there. I think we’ve had some really good games over the last 10 games.
“I know we’ve learned a lot. That’s what we want to do. We’re either going to win games or we’re going to learn something that helps us win a game later . . . The team is playing well, we’ve had guys play really well during this stretch. So it’s building. I think we all see it the same way. We’re trying to get better every day. We want to see these improvements and that’s what we’re looking for.”
“I just think as a team we’re just doing a good job of being connected,” Julius Randle said. “Coach is obviously giving a great game plan. We’re trying to make the best of the situation, being connected.
“He’s our leader. He’s our leader now. He’s doing an amazing job. All buying in from Day 1 since the change has happened. We’re buying into being connected, buying into what he’s saying.”
Entering Saturday, the Knicks were averaging 109.0 points per game under Miller compared to 100.5 in Fizdale’s 22 games this season — and surrendering 112.8 compared to 111.3.
The players are hesitant to say anything that could be construed as criticism of Fizdale and are quick to note that on the day he was let go, the players already had had a players-only meeting to try to take on more accountability themselves. Randle said the relationship is still there.
“I talked to [Fizdale] and [Keith Smart],” Randle said of the coach who was in place when he signed with the Knicks and his top assistant, who also was let go. “Obviously, he’s been keeping up with us. It’s an invested relationship they have with us. Obviously keeping up and congratulating us with how we’re doing. It means a lot.”
The Knicks expect to see Reggie Bullock make his debut with the team in the coming week. Bullock, who originally signed a two-year, $21 million deal with the Knicks before revising it to a one-year, $4 million deal with a second-year team option for $4.2 million, has been sidelined with a cervical disc herniation that required surgery. After the Knicks learned of the injury, they reworked the deal, which had been verbally agreed upon on the first day of free agency, and allowed him to work his way back.
“Reggie worked out with Westchester [Friday], full-go practice, and then he practiced today with what we did,” Miller said Friday. “He’s doing very well with his building up to get ready to play.
“I think he adds to both sides of the ball. Very good defender. Very high-IQ defender. Real high level of awareness with him defensively. Really sees things. Of course offensively as a shooter, he’s had success, he’s got experience. He’s picked up a lot of things that we’re doing [by] just watching. So that says a lot.”