It’s a piece of equipment utilized by boxers and those with anger management issues. It can hang from a ceiling or stand atop a compact base. Either way, it’s built to take a pounding. A punching bag is an easy target for abuse, unable to offer any retaliation of its own.
That’s what the Knicks have become in the wake of firing David Fizdale before Christmas: a punching bag for coaches and critics around the league to voice their displeasure and question the Knicks leadership over the decision.
It seems everywhere the Knicks play these days, the opposing coach will chime in on Fizdale’s Dec. 6 firing after a 4-18 start. Gregg Popovich, Mike Malone, Steve Kerr and Erik Spoelstra have blamed Knicks management for not giving Fizdale a fair chance to succeed.
Spoelstra offered his two cents before the Knicks lost, 129-114, at Miami on Friday night.
“I think it stinks,” he said of Fizdale’s firing less than a season and half into his tenure. “I think he’s a phenomenal coach.”
Malone, the Jazz head coach and a former Knicks assistant, questioned whether Fizdale was “a fall guy,” and Popovich, the outspoken Spurs coach, was even more direct.
“It’s ridiculous to think you’re going to bring in a young guy and after being there a minute and half you expect him to fix everything that’s been wrong there for a long time,” Popovich said.
It will probably be like this for the foreseeable future, opposing coaches taking shots at the Knicks for firing Fizdale so early in the season. The Knicks set themselves up this. Coaches always circle their wagons around coaches when there is a firing.
Mike Budenholzer’s surging Bucks beat the Knicks, 123-102, Saturday night at the Garden. He interviewed for the job that was given to Fizdale, and was a bit more diplomatic before last night’s blowout.
“You feel for Fizdale,” he said. “You just want better for him. I think he’s a great coach and he’ll be good going forward. That’s part of our league.”
For a franchise that desperately needed a makeover to become more attractive to free agents, the Knicks seem to be making the opposite impression. Players clearly were already wary of the Knicks’ ability to turn into a winner. Now coaches have to be wary of coming to New York, too. Why join a franchise that’s proven a coach can be shown the door just one season and 22 games into his contract? Instead of taking a step forward, the Knicks have taken two steps back.
Interim head coach Mike Miller seems to be a good man, who has earned the chance to prove if he can lead an NBA team. Of course, it’s easier when the bar has been set so low. The Knicks were down early 23-6 against the Bucks and trailed 95-70 at the end of the third quarter. The fans didn’t bother to boo.
The Knicks probably will pursue a bigger name to be the head coach next year when the best move might be to stick with Miller while young players like RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson and Kevin Knox develop. At this point, it’s hard to trust the Knicks to make the right decision.
For two years team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry preached patience, telling fans they had a long-term plan to success. Losing had to be tolerated in pursuit of the big picture. Just be patient, they said.
Yet, when the Knicks front office needed to practice what they preached, they did the opposite. They showed no patience with Fizdale.
You wonder what Mills and Perry expected. Did they really sign nine new faces to the roster and think they’d field a competitive team from the jump? The players barely knew each other’s names after four preseason games and a realistic target for becoming a cohesive team should have been sometime after the holidays.
After all, this season wasn’t so much about building a winner as it was about building a culture and developing their young players. Now it will take more time and certainly more patience to shake off the notion this team is starting from scratch again.
For more on the Knicks, listen to the latest episode of the “Big Apple Buckets” podcast:
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