Update: ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Friday afternoon that the Knicks have fired head coach David Fizdale. The team has also reportedly dismissed assistant coach Keith Smart. This piece was originally published Friday morning, before this news broke.
Let the record show that the New York Knicks wanted this. Well, at least part of it. Back in May 2018, David Fizdale was the franchise’s top choice to replace head coach Jeff Hornacek, whom the team fired after the 2017-18 regular season. Fizdale accepted the opportunity, and at first both parties seemed to be content with the union. Fizdale got a gig in the league’s top market, and the Knicks, for once, got their primary offseason target. And so it is ironic that just 22 games into Fizdale’s second season, the franchise is already on the brink of hitting the eject button on the only top-tier free agent it’s managed to sign this decade.
At this point, though, no other course of action feels plausible. Something has to change, even if it won’t really change anything at all. On Thursday night, the Knicks welcomed the Nuggets into Madison Square Garden and rolled out the red carpet all the way to the rim. New York gave up 129 points in a 37-point loss to Denver, and this came just three nights after giving up 132 in a 44-point loss to the Bucks. Those losses set franchise records for their severity, and dropped the team’s record to 4-18. They also felt like the prologue to the inevitable first shoe to drop.
The vultures circled the Garden on Thursday night, as reporters on the ground noted that owner James Dolan, general manager Scott Perry, and president Steve Mills all left their seats before the game was over. Speculation rose that they wanted to finish drawing up the paperwork for Fizdale’s firing, which had reportedly been set in motion less than a month ago. After the Knicks lost to the Cavaliers by 21 points in mid-November, Mills and Perry held an impromptu press conference to address how displeased they were at the effort and the results of a team that they thought would be competitive before the season began (LOL). Reports later surfaced that the press conference was designed as a foundation-setter for the eventual ousting of Fizdale.
Things have not gotten better since that failed attempt to save face. Shocking, I know. The Knicks have lost 10 of their past 12 games; they rank last in the league in offense and they’re bottom-eight in defense; and the players continue to play with the pace of corpses every time they set foot on the floor. They are not just one of the worst teams in the league—they are also one of the most hopeless, because the root of their problems isn’t injuries or, well, coaching. This is a franchise that has won 40 games or more only three times since the turn of the century, and that has cycled through a total of 12 coaches during that stretch. The Knicks are way past the point of banking on a coaching change, or even front-office change, being their antidote.
And though Fizdale has been dealt a bad hand from the beginning (Dolan is his team’s owner, after all), he also hasn’t done himself any favors. His rotations and lineups lack coherence: How else would you explain Frank Ntilikina playing only six minutes after playing 37 in the previous game? Or second-year guard Allonzo Trier playing just six minutes in Thursday’s blowout loss? And Fizdale seems as unenthused with the task at hand as the players do on the court. Then again, if he’s been updating his résumé and making sure his LinkedIn page has all the necessary endorsements instead of drawing up plays lately, I can’t necessarily blame him.
Given that some reporters have been surprised that Fizdale hasn’t been fired already, he’s likely been a dead man walking from the moment Mills and Perry decided to give that November press conference. But whoever he had remaining in his corner seems to be slowly packing their bags. When Marcus Morris was asked Thursday night about the team’s play possibly costing Fizdale his job, he replied: “Next question.”
After the game, Fizdale, who looks to have aged 20 years in the past season and change, was asked what it felt like to have the team’s struggles blamed on him. He said: “I don’t care about all of that. I don’t even think about that really.” For the record, that last line is also the lie I tell people when they ask me about my last relationship.
History will look back on this as Fizdale getting a raw deal, and though he certainly was a contributor to the detriment of the team, he wasn’t the biggest issue. More change will have to come for things to get any better; but at this point, who knows when—or if—that will happen. Good luck to the next coach who wants to step into this line of fire.