On Thursday night, near the end of another of those 37-point Knick routs that felt as if it should count as more than a single loss, word came that the team’s owner, Jim Dolan, as well as the team’s president and its general manager had vacated their seats and disappeared underneath the stands of Madison Square Garden.
My heart leapt. Was it too much to hope they might gather in a conference room and all agree to fire each other?
Alas, it was not to be. Instead, Knicks management announced on Friday afternoon that they had fired another coach. So David Fizdale, like so many before him, bounds away a free man, paroled to enjoy a couple of gilded years living on the Dolan dole.
The Knicks’ president, Steve Mills, has survived many such purges, a bureaucratic lifer who could have survived the 1930s Kremlin. General Manager Scott Perry may or may not know what he’s doing, but he enjoys a fine contract, too. True change will only come to the Knicks when the querulous and glowering Knicks owner interrogates his two decades of failure and shows himself the door.
This is not to toss up a strong defense of Fizdale. He is a well-regarded basketball man, but his team gave the appearance in recent weeks of punching time cards and checking out. The other night against the Nuggets, Allonzo Trier trotted onto the court. Trier, if you gave up watching the Knicks long before he arrived last year, will shoot from anywhere in the Garden ZIP code, and he cultivates an aversion to playing defense.
Not long after coming on, he strolled under a pick and watched, bemused, as the fellow he was putatively supposed to defend gathered himself and sank a 3-point shot. Then he turned around and called for the ball.
There is a lot of this. The other team takes off down the floor and the Knicks’ defenders jog alongside like amiable company. Kevin Knox, who can give the appearance of a child awakened from a fine afternoon nap, is talented but often fails to remember that moving one’s feet is the key to playing defense.
Then there is Julius Randle, who signed on as the Knicks’ sort of star this past summer and labors under the unhelpful illusion that he is a 6-foot-8, 250-pound point guard. He dribbles into traffic and fumbles the ball and then hits the repeat button. There is not a high-quality scorer on this current team.
Look, unfortunately, I could go on. For reasons probably best explained by a good shrink, I have watched most of the Knicks’ five or six most recent games. Fizdale might not have been the second coming of Gregg Popovich (or perhaps not even Herb Williams), but he was not the problem.
He ran the same plays that most teams in the league run, and he was active on the bench and rarely looked as despairing as he had right to feel. True blame is found as we ascend the management ladder at the Garden.
Last July 1, at the start of free agency, what is known (with a giggle) as the Knicks Brain Trust agreed to sign a baker’s dozen of power forwards and shooting guards and various bric-a-brac and pronounced themselves pleased.
Yes, O.K., they had missed out on the otherworldly Kevin Durant and the dribbling magician Kyrie Irving and even Kemba Walker, a motorman of a point guard, which is to say all of the free agents worth acquiring. Not to worry.
“While we understand that some Knicks fans could be disappointed,” Mills said in a news release, “we continue to be upbeat and confident in our plans to rebuild the Knicks to compete for championships in the future.”
An unfortunate number of basketball writers swallowed this malarkey. One of those writers semi-resembled myself; I forecast to family and friends that this team might win 38, even 40 games, which in Knicks-speak is to describe a deliriously successful season.
The Knicks record stands at 4-18. This will most likely be the team’s seventh straight losing season. The team has had two winning seasons in the last 19. In that time, the Knicks have had 13 coaches, and the firings of those men were rarely pretty.
The coach before Fizdale, Jeff Hornacek, was cast out at the end of the 2017-18 season. “We thought,” Perry said at the time, “it was important and the timing was right to get a new voice.”
The timing was certainly intriguing: Hornacek was fired at 2 a.m., just after he stepped off the plane from a season-ending game in Cleveland.
As the rumor mill again spun on Friday afternoon, there was talk that the Knicks wanted a coach who was long on positivity. (A few hours later they in fact named the assistant coach Mike Miller as interim head coach.) Whatever. Daily hits of sunshine acid will not help this team.
There is a smidgen of talent. Center Mitchell Robinson is a high-energy, elongated man of a shot-blocker with great hands. The rookie RJ Barrett evinces a veteran’s feel for the game and does not quit on defense. Frank Ntilikina may yet turn into a good guard if he shows any interest in scoring. A coach might yet shake Knox awake and make him realize he has the talent to play in this league.
This roster was constructed only with managerial panic in mind. Now the inevitable Knicks rumors circulate that Dolan, who to his credit never fails to burn piles of his own money in futile pursuit of a way out of his team’s endless cycle of suffering, might try to hire another big-name general manager.