As the losing streak reached eight, David Fizdale was asked about the overwhelming amount of losses this team has endured over the last two months and how detrimental it is for players to endure.
The coach then went into a rant to remind Knicks fans — and anyone else still paying attention — that this “Process” that so many have praised in pro sports lately is only appreciated after that hard part no one wants to talk about is over.
“I think everybody loves Philly’s team, I think everybody likes Denver’s team right now,” Fizdale said. “All these young teams that went through hell for three years.”
He then thought about the team he just lost to, the Nets, who are only now getting out from under three years of losing without the consolation of lottery picks.
“I think everybody likes Brooklyn’s team right now,” he added.
Forget buying into the cheap, low-hanging fruit comparisons between the two franchise’s right now. They’re at two very different places in their respective rebuilds. The Nets are way ahead in the process, with a coaching staff that has been in place for three seasons and players who have been developed over that time. They were fortunate enough to operate in somewhat anonymity in New York because, here, the Knicks make the headlines. And when the Nets do, it’s usually just to compare them to the Knicks.
But, if anything, rather than be used to show how far the Knicks are from contending, the Nets should be used as the example of why the Knicks can believe in this process. The Nets needed time to recover from some terrible decisions made by GM Billy King. The Knicks are trying to recover from some bad moves made by Phil Jackson.
And Fizdale should look at Nets coach Kenny Atkinson and Nuggets coach Mike Malone (both of whom were recently maligned by their fan bases — not that anyone will admit it now — because of the losing) as motivation to stick to the plan.
“People talk about winning culture,” Fizdale said. “Most winning cultures start with getting your butt kicked first…unless you walk into a gym filled with stars.”
The Knicks have one star, Kristaps Porzingis, and he’s been out all season. They’re trying to develop more stars in the draft, but so far the decision to select Frank Ntilikina has yet to prove to be a smart one and last year’s pick, Kevin Knox, is a 19-year-old work-in-progress. The Knicks (10-37) are setting up to have a shot at getting a top three pick in what is considered a very top-heavy draft class. They also have salary cap space to improve the roster, which, like most rebuilding teams, doesn’t have nearly enough talent to make playoff contention a reality.
So when the Knicks lose to the Nets as they did last night, with a rebounding deficit of 26, the story is about how the team’s best rebounder, Enes Kanter, was benched. Kanter gladly waits by his locker now for reporters to ask him why he didn’t play.
Fizdale had just explained that he thought about playing Kanter but opted not to. He then explained why Kanter is no longer in the rotation. “We’re fighting for a certain style of play now to start building for our future,” he said. “I want to be able to play a very versatile style in the future and I don’t want to wait to start working at that and start building that out.”
That’s a nice way for a coach to say Kanter, who struggles in defending the game’s most effective, most highly used play, the pick-and-roll, doesn’t really fit into how we want to play. It’s a nice way for the coach to say Kanter, who opted into the final year of his contract despite knowing this would be a rebuilding year, is not someone we expect to keep after this year, so we don’t see a reason to prioritize him over players we are keeping going forward.
And if that wasn’t clear, when asked why Kanter sits but other veterans such as Tim Hardaway Jr. — who is also a defensive liability at times — are still getting playing time, Fizdale again points to the obvious: “Tim is making $18 million dollars for two more years. He’s a part of our future, from that standpoint.”
With the February 7th trade deadline approaching, there have been reports that the Knicks have made all of their veterans, from Kanter and Hardaway to Courtney Lee and Trey Burke (25 points) available. If the Knicks move Hardaway and Lee for expiring contracts, it would open up a lot more cap space in free agency, but moving Hardaway’s contract won’t be easy and will likely come at the expense of a young player or a future draft pick. The Knicks may not be willing to make that kind of sacrifice with no guarantees that the cap space will turn into anything better. The other option would be to continue to work on Hardaway’s game.
The trade deadline could be a very busy one for GM Scott Perry, who is said to be in asset collection mode to help set up the offseason. What could work in their favor is that with a lot of teams contending for playoff spots, there could be more buyers than sellers at today’s deadline.
While the games keep coming, the most important days of the Knicks rebuild are approaching. The trade deadline is where it begins. The draft lottery is next. With some smart moves and a little luck, the outlook can change in time for free agency.
The toughest part is getting there.
– Kanter was told that Fizdale explained he didn’t think it was fair to throw Kanter into the game when Ed Davis (17 points, 16 rebounds) and company started dominating the glass. “All right, that’s what the coach said,” Kanter replied. “You have to respect the coach.” But Kanter said Fizdale hasn’t spoken to him about his role. “I wish he would communicate with me,” he said. “I see him every day but he has not said a word to me. We are grown men.” Noah Vonleh started at center for a second straight game and had a career-best performance with 22 points and 13 rebounds. The issue on the boards was rookie Mitchell Robinson, who had only four rebounds. The entire Knicks bench managed just six.
– Then there is Burke, who came off the bench to score 25 points on 10 of 19 field goals with 5 assists. Burke has sat for four straight games and had not seen action in 14 of the previous 22 games, but you haven’t heard a word out of him. All you know about Burke is that you can find him most nights in the gym at the Knicks practice facility getting extra work in on his game. He could be a nice pick-up for a playoff-contending team looking for scoring depth off the bench.
– Emmanuel Mudiay will be out for a couple of weeks with a left shoulder strain he suffered during the Rockets game on Wednesday night. That thrust Frank Ntilikina back into the starting point guard spot and he got off to a good start before foul trouble sent him to the bench. Ntilikina, who usually has big games against the Nets, fouled out in just 18 minutes, with four points, five assists, two steals and a block.
– Kevin Knox is back on the rookie roller-coaster. After a 16-game stretch that saw him average 17.6 points per game, score in double figures for 12 straight games and hit the 20-point mark in 3 straight, Knox has slumped to just 8 points per game over the last four games on 24.4% shooting. The biggest issue is his three-point touch, which was sizzling at 38.5% during the aforementioned 16-game run but has now seen him his just four of 21 from downtown over the last four games.