The Knicks fired David Fizdale on Friday. That was inevitable long before the sad collection of journeymen and underdeveloped young “talent” bumbled its way to an eighth straight loss the night before. The Knicks fell by 37 points, at home, to the Denver Nuggets on Thursday, which was a particularly ugly and lazy outing even by their standards. Fizdale called the effort, such as it was, “sickening.” Sure. Now someone else will try to keep the franchise from projectile-vomiting losses all over the league standings.
It won’t be assistant Keith Smart. They reportedly fired him, too. According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, Knicks assistant Mike Miller will take over as interim head coach. Maybe he even wants the job—though if he were smart, he’d be looking for a fire escape to shimmy his way down to street level and freedom. Sticking around would only prolong his misery and his inevitable end. It comes sooner or later for everyone who coaches the Knicks. Usually sooner. Fizdale would know.
The Knicks are 4-18 this season, and 21-83 in less than two years under Fizdale. He did a bad job with a bad team, but the people who put him in that position remain behind and gainfully employed. This was the way it was always going to go down. Someone had to be the fall guy for this latest abject disaster of a season, and Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry made it pretty plain they wouldn’t be pointing fingers at themselves. A month ago—after the Knicks got blown out by the Cavaliers—Mills and Perry held an impromptu and hilarious press conference where, and I’m paraphrasing here, they said they expected the Knicks to be a lot better this season. It was, of course, an absurd assertion. No one outside the organization expected the Knicks—who flamed out in free agency in spectacular fashion and pivoted from courting Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant to chucking a bunch of money at Julius Randle and Marcus Morris just to fill out the roster with semi-lukewarm bodies—to be anything other than awful. (FiveThirtyEight predicted they’d be the worst team in the NBA this season, which was a good guess. Oddsmakers weren’t much more optimistic.)
The fact that Mills and Perry made themselves available to the media that day was an obvious signal that they were getting ready to swing the ax and that Fizdale would be under it when they did. The franchise—from owner James Dolan, through the front office and on down—is famous for its aversion to, and hatred of, the press. Marching out and volunteering to talk to the media was a clear break-glass-only-in-case-of-emergency maneuver. Then again, a protracted state of hopeless emergency is the only way the organization has operated under Mills.
Fizdale is the sixth head coach Mills has hired and fired in his ignominious tenure with the Knicks. Working backward, before Fizdale, there was Jeff Hornaceck (who went 60-104), Derek Fisher (40-96), Kurt Rambis (9-19), Mike Woodson (109-79), and Mike D’Antoni (121-167). According to my Ringer teammate Jonathan Tjarks, who helpfully and immediately dropped these nuggets into our NBA Slack, Fizdale is the fifth Knicks coach out of the last nine to be fired midseason. And of the last eight Knicks head coaches, D’Antoni is the only one to date to get another NBA head coaching job after being discarded by the dysfunctional organization. Maybe Fizdale will have better luck and join D’Antoni in getting hired elsewhere, or perhaps he’ll go put his feet in the sand somewhere and sip drinks with little umbrellas in them and collect all the money he is still owed through the 2021-22 season. Either way he is free of the franchise. He ought to send Dolan a fruit basket and a thank-you card for doing him that favor.
That Mills is still standing is a remarkable study in self-preservation. Maybe Dolan, who is notoriously thin-skinned, keeps him around because Mills keeps telling him what he wants to hear and promising that next year will be the year the Knicks will finally land the all-caps BIG free agents—even though, as Kevin Durant made plain by both signing with the cross-town Nets and in subsequent interviews, stars don’t want to play for Dolan’s unhappy menagerie of misfits. As Durant put it well, if cruelly: “The cool thing right now is not the Knicks.”
’Twas ever thus. Coaching the Knicks—just like playing for the Knicks or, God forbid, rooting for the Knicks—is a bum deal. It has been a bum deal for so long it is hard now to remember when it wasn’t a bum deal, and it will continue to be a bum deal for the foreseeable future. As my other Ringer colleague, Paolo Uggetti, wrote presciently mere hours before Fizdale was fired, nothing will change with this latest head coaching turnover. Maybe the organization will convince someone recognizable to put his name on the marquee but no one not named Dolan, Mills, or Perry will be fooled into thinking the production inside MSG will suddenly be worth watching now. (Mark Jackson will undoubtedly be mentioned, and Metta World Peace offered his services “to bring that street mentality back to the garden” … which, yes please.) It has been the same show on loop for years. And just like the rest of us, whoever comes next will know how it all ends before it even begins.