As the media assembled in what is the foyer of Madison Square Garden, called Chase Square, in an area staged for a press conference, an observer looking from a balcony above felt a sense of familiarity. Or was it monotony?
“We’ve got to stop meeting like this,” he thought.
Once upon a time, May 8th was the greatest day in franchise history. A nine-inch needle filled with Carbocaine and cortisone was stuck into Willis Reed‘s leg and he famously limped out onto the court for Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Inspired by their captain, the Knicks won their first championship.
Forty-eight years later, the Knicks are searching again for that kind of inspiration. Reed delivered action, not words.
David Fizdale, Steve Mills and Scott Perry meet with the media as Fizdale is officially introduced as the 29th coach in New York Knicks history.
Too often over the last two decades, these warm spring days have been more about words, not action. Press conferences, not playoff games. No one knows it more than team president Steve Mills, who allowed a few smiles for the cameras but appeared more anxious than anything throughout David Fizdale‘s introduction to New York as the next head coach of the Knicks.
No one knows more than Mills that while many of the faces have changed over the years, he remains. He has attended too many of these. He has heard all the promises. He has seen all the mistakes that followed.
So, why is it different now?
“I think we’ve seen how things can go wrong,” Mills said. “And I’ve seen a lot of mistakes that have taken place . . . and maybe not the right patience in terms of doing things the right way.”
Mills has been in the room where it happens. His detractors will say his presence means he has been part of the problem. His defenders will say he never held the authority of final say. What comes next will say whether or not he learned from the mistakes of the past, such as trading a top-10 pick for injury-risk Antonio McDyess (2002), trading a pair of unprotected first round picks for Eddy Curry (2005), trading a promising second-round pick named Trevor Ariza for Steve Francis (2006), trading a first-round pick for Andrea Bargnani (2013) . . . there’s a lot more we could list, but I think you get the idea.
“I think we’ve seen a lot of shortcuts,” Mills said, “and swinging for the fences and trying to hit home runs all the time,”
Alan Hahn and Bill Pidto break down why David Fizdale was the right choice for the Knicks and what coaching style he'll bring to New York.
Mills brought Scott Perry in as general manager to assist in this mission of patience, in the city known for the New York minute. Perry was part of a rebuilding effort that made mistakes in Orlando — the Magic are still trying to get it right — and like Mills, he didn’t have final say there, either. But he saw what went wrong there and elsewhere around the league. He was also in the front office in Detroit to see how the Pistons, with Joe Dumars at the helm, built themselves into a championship team with a good draft pick (Tayshaun Prince), timely trades (Ben Wallace, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace) and smart signings (Chauncey Billups). All of that work took three seasons before the Pistons became a team that reached six straight conference finals, two NBA Finals appearances, and a championship.
“You can’t skip steps to becoming a championship team,” Perry said. “I haven’t seen it happen. And we don’t have magic wands to make that happen.
“The magic formula, if you will, is the daily grind.”
There is some irony to the fact that Mills and Perry are steadfast in the patient approach while hiring a coach who actually witnessed how the magic wand, quick fix approach did work. That was when Fizdale was an assistant coach in Miami, where they went from trying to drag then-rookie Michael Beasley out of bed in Las Vegas at the summer league to the Heatlemania collaboration of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. What followed was four straight trips to the NBA Finals and two championships.
That was Studio 54. It burned out quickly.
The Knicks need something more like Fraunces Tavern. Historic and everlasting.
“If we build this thing right, together, with the guys we have here, who I’m focused on here,” Fizdale said, “people will want to come.”
Al Trautwig sits down with David Fizdale to talk about building a relationship with Kristaps Porzingis, getting fired in Memphis, what he learned from Pat Riley and much more.
Of the many accolades bestowed upon Fizdale by his many supporters around the league — a Who’s Who that includes Pat Riley, LeBron and many more — one of the most important may be his connections with the NBA elite. Fizdale is presented by his friends as someone players want to play for, so come 2019, when the Knicks have cap space, that should put the team in play to attract talent.
No, this won’t just be built through the draft. None of the great teams are. The Celtics have young talent, sure, but their three best players were acquired via free agency (Gordon Hayward, Al Horford) and trade (Kyrie Irving). But it’s the draft (Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and Jayson Tatum), their development and the culture created by Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens that has allowed them to overcome the injuries to Hayward and Irving.
So there’s more to this than just tanking for high draft picks. It’s about finding the right coach and then the right players. And when it comes to New York, that second part is a lot harder to do because of what it takes to play in this city. We’ve seen over the last two decades how a player becomes a Knick and suddenly he’s not the same. Then he’s traded away and he’s a good player again. Mills has seen it, too.
“One of the things that I’ve learned is that there are a whole lot of guys that want to live in New York,” he said. “There are not a whole lot of guys that are built to play in New York. And that’s part of our job, to distinguish between those things, and find the guys who are, who have the fortitude and the makeup to be able to survive in this place.
“So we have to make sure we have some filters and try to make as few mistakes as we possibly can in identifying the right kind of people for this team.”
It starts with leadership. And, the hope is, these press conferences on warm spring days once reserved for playoff games, ends here.