David Fizdale is already on the hot seat and the season hasn’t even started yet. At least it seems that way as the Knicks wrapped up their four-game preseason Friday night with a 117-116 loss to the Pelicans (minus Zion Williamson) at the Garden.
A report that some unnamed Knicks were “grumbling” over their playing time this preseason isn’t a good sign regardless of the legitimacy of the discontent. These things seem to have a way of getting worse before they get better. It’s particularly troubling to hear selfish complaints before the 82-game regular-season journey has even started.
The Knicks’ head coach seemed oblivious to any rifts.
“These guys all seem to have the right agenda,” Fizdale said Friday. Still, it’s not a good look for a coach whose honeymoon ended with a 17-65 record last year.
With the season-opener looming Wednesday in San Antonio, Fizdale will have an uphill battle to retain the confidence of a fan base that has grown weary of losing. Team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry can talk about sticking with the process all they want, but there will come a time when patience runs out and changes will be demanded.
There is no fool’s gold that can be dangled to distract what will take place on the court, no lofty dreams of landing the No. 1-overall draft pick and signing the top free agents. That didn’t work out too well after last season when Williamson was drafted No. 1 overall by the Pelicans and Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant signed free-agent deals with Brooklyn.
The fact Irving and Durant signed with the rival Nets will put added pressure on Fizdale to fix the Knicks. Regardless of what’s said publicly, it has to sting for the once proud franchise that the “Mecca of Basketball” was passed over in favor of the Nets, who could become the bigger show in town. Somebody will have to take the fall for that if the Knicks don’t show promise this year, and Fizdale, who signed a four-year deal, figures to be the likely target.
Though no one is demanding the Knicks be a playoff team this season, they must achieve a level of competitiveness that offers the promise of building a winner in the near future. That means developing Kevin Knox to be an impact player, RJ Barrett to be worthy of the third-overall pick, and bringing the best out of players like Dennis Smith Jr., Elfrid Payton, Mitchell Robinson and Frank Ntilikina, if he isn’t traded anytime soon.
The last thing Fizdale needs is for the Knicks to be irrelevant, a team that looks to have no present and future. That could lead to another coaching search, which is the last thing this franchise needs.
Fizdale is already handicapped by a short preseason.
“The shorter preseason now leans more towards the teams that are established and have an understanding of who they are,” he said. “For teams like us, I wish we had eight games.”
The Knicks don’t have that luxury, which means Fizdale barely will have an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of his players by the time they tip-off against the Spurs. With nine new names on the roster and some of them missing time with injuries, four preseason games is hardly enough to figure out who can do what.
“We’re going out to compete to win,” Fizdale said. “We’re not going to make any excuses. We understand where we are and there’s a lot of new faces. But that’s no excuse. We’re going keep working to build the chemistry and going on the road to try to get wins.”
While four preseason games is about one too many in the NFL, it’s not enough of a litmus test for Fizdale, who must settle on a starting point guard and a workable rotation. We’ll probably find out more about his coaching ability this year than we did during last year’s tank season. But he’s already facing an uphill battle before this season even begins.
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