Despite another defeat, there was a clear attempt to calm roiling waters surrounding Fizdale. Sources indicated Mills and Perry felt their unprecedented James Dolan-inspired press conference Sunday came off as too harsh in the form of pinning the blame on the coach.
Despite their frustrations following the loss at Chicago -- one in which they turned the ball over 18 times and were outscored 52-46 in the paint -- Knicks players were still adamant in their support of the second-year coach. "We've got 9-10 new guys? We've got 10 guys that have not played together at all and me who hasn't even been in the league yet," said rookie RJ Barrett. "You're gonna have some challenges, but you've got to keep pushing, keep pushing through everything. That's all I can really say. You've just got to stay together. "He's up to the challenge. We believe in him," he continued. "We're staying together, and like we said, we're all-in with him and are just gonna keep fighting together."
Fizdale didn't seem fazed by the speculation during Tuesday's shootaround, telling reporters, "It's always a media firestorm in New York, so for everybody else this is a big deal, but for us, it's a normal environment. So, our guys are focused, they're connected."
Eric Woodyard: Knicks coach David Fizdale says the last couple of days haven’t created any tension. “It’s always a media firestorm in New York, so for everybody else this is a big deal but for us it’s a normal environment,” he said. “So, our guys are focused, they’re connected.” pic.twitter.com/PWToA0wWUF
Several people familiar with the matter told SNY on Monday that Mills, Perry and Fizdale are all under greater scrutiny amid New York's 2-8 start. "Everyone's on notice," one source said. So the notion that Mills, who has served as either president or GM of the Knicks (under Phil Jackson) since 2013-14, would be immune to the consequences that would come of New York continues to underperform is inaccurate.
Chris Mannix: Should the Knicks eventually move on from Fizdale, there are in-house options -- Keith Smart has been a head coach, Kaleb Canales was an interim coach in Portland -- but the name to be watched is Mark Jackson. He was a pre-Fiz candidate and a favorite of GM Scott Perry.
Ian Begley: David Fizdale says management has been supportive of him when asked about ESPN report that president Steve Mills has laid groundwork to fire him. Asked if he’s gotten any assurance from management, Fizdale notes that he has 2.5 years left on his contract.
Ian Begley: Steve Mills, Scott Perry and David Fizdale talking after practice today. Fizdale said he met with Mills and Perry this morning, as he does almost every morning. When asked about it, Fizdale said he feels he, Mills and Perry are together in sharing blame for Knicks’ bad start. pic.twitter.com/0yi21paf5s
Even before a startling news conference in the wake of a blowout loss to Cleveland, New York Knicks president Steve Mills had started to lay the internal groundwork for the eventual dismissal of coach David Fizdale, league sources told ESPN. Mills is selling owner James Dolan on a roster constructed to be highly competitive in the Eastern Conference, leaving Fizdale vulnerable to an ouster only weeks into the second season of a four-year contract that league sources say is worth $22 million.
Rival coaches and executives see a mismatched Knicks roster slow of foot, without legitimate NBA guard play but Mills is selling Dolan on a poorly coached team that is underachieving at 2-8 to start the season, league sources said. Around Madison Square Garden and the league, the timing and tone of the news conference was met with considerable surprise and dismay -- and considered completely undermining of Fizdale. "Everyone is moving to their positions now," a league source close to management and the coaching staff told ESPN. "This is how they'll make (Fizdale) the fall guy."
Sources told SNY that high-ranking MSG officials weren't thrilled after last Sunday's 113-92 home loss to the Sacramento Kings -- which is understandable, given the result.
Multiple SNY sources familiar with the matter said as recently as Thursday that there was no indication that any major coaching or management change was imminent. But those sources stated that nothing had been ruled out with regard an in-season front office or coaching change.
"Given that this is our 10th game, we felt like we had an obligation to come and speak to you guys," Mills said. "Obviously, Scott and I are not happy with where we are right now. We think the team's not performing to the level that we anticipated or we expected to perform at and that's something that we think we have to collectively do a better job of delivering the product on the floor that we said we would do at the start of this season.
David Fizdale, of course, was resilient and unflinching in his ownership of the mess to date. “I take the brunt of this responsibility because I’m the head coach,” he said. “I make these decisions of what’s going on on the court, what players play, who plays together, what plays we call, the defense system — that’s on me. As much as I appreciate them, I own it. That’s just who I am.”
Knicks fans may want to blame David Fizdale for the team’s awful start, but the coach appears to have the backing of the two people who matter most — general manager Scott Perry and president Steve Mills. “They have been incredibly supportive. We talk every day,” Fizdale said Wednesday before the Knicks played the Pistons. “The beauty of what’s happening inside our building is everyone is connected. They all see the work we are putting in."
Fan frustration boiled over in the second half of the 113-92 loss as the crowd booed and some chanted: “Fire Fizdale.” “I don’t think about that,” Fizdale said when he was asked about the crowd behavior. “I was more concerned about our performance from my seat. I can’t get caught up with how everybody else is feeling.”
If Knicks president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry are antsy over the team’s 1-6 start, they have not conveyed that to coach David Fizdale. The common refrain is this newly constructed roster with 10 new faces is going to take some time to mesh. The Knicks are tied with New Orleans for the NBA’s worst start.
“They’ve been incredibly supportive,” Fizdale said after Wednesday’s morning shootaround at Detroit Country Day before the Knicks faced the Pistons. “We talk every day. The beauty of what’s happening inside our building is everyone is connected. They all see the work that we’re putting in.”
Sources have indicated it’s way too early to start any Fizdale Watch — not with this new roster that needs tender loving care because of its complexities. How bad would it look for Knicks president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry to fire Fizdale on Dec. 1 after one season and one month after they passed on Mike Budenholzer, Mark Jackson and David Blatt and didn’t interview Steve Clifford?
Fizdale was a good soldier during last season’s 17-win tank-a-thon, but how hard this team plays in the next few weeks is worth watching. One name to consider if the season really starts to careen: Mark Jackson. The ex-Warriors coach (and ex-Knick) was a favorite of GM Scott Perry during the interview process in 2018, and Jackson has made no secret about his desire to coach again. Fizdale won’t be expected to perform miracles with this group but New York can’t let the season slip away quickly.
June 23, 2021 | 5:32 am EDT Update
Sullivan is the author of “Can’t Knock the Hustle: Inside the Season of Protest, Pandemic, and Progress with the Brooklyn Nets’ Superstars of Tomorrow,” which released on Tuesday. In a conversation with our friends from Celtics Wire on their podcast, Celtics Lab, Sullivan said that Nets ownership was unhappy with Irving over his midseason “pause,” and that Irving could be available for the right offer.
Matt Sullivan: “Let me give you guys a little news, I’m not sure that’s been out there. I’ve heard that Nets ownership was quite upset with Kyrie’s ‘pause,’ especially that maskless party that turned his psuedo-paternity leave into more like a COVID suspension. And in the last week I’ve heard rumblings – whispers, really, because cracking the Nets is kind of like breaking into the Kremlin, that Brooklyn GM Sean Marks would maybe, possibly, apparently be willing to at least listen to a trade offer for Kyrie this offseason. Now, I’m not sure what the market for Kyrie is at this point. It’s not like Ben Simmons giving you the headache on the court. It’s that complex personality that comes from off the court. I think it’s been annoying some people in the franchise. I can’t speak to his teammates, who obviously want to play with one of the world’s best and get him back there.”
Deandre Ayton couldn’t stop smiling after the Phoenix Suns’ 104-103 win on Tuesday gave them a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals over the LA Clippers. The big man wore a permagrin as he basked in the joy that came from dunking home the go-ahead bucket in the game’s final second, finishing one of the most dramatic alley-oops in NBA playoff history, but he didn’t want any of the credit. “I’ll start off by saying that’s definitely Jae [Crowder’s] game winner, making a great pass for a 7-footer,” Ayton said after his dunk with 0.7 seconds left lifted his final line to 24 points on 12-for-15 shooting and 14 rebounds.
No wonder Ayton said he completed the best play of his three-year NBA career after finishing with 24 points, 14 rebounds and one memorable lob that gave the Suns a 2-0 series lead. “I never played so hard from the jump ball to the end, 150%,” Ayton said. “Usually it’s like 110%, but tonight it’s 150% and it’s 150% mentally. Just the level of focus and the things you have to really pay attention to, it’s really intense.”
And the production has been eye-popping. Per Elias Sports Bureau research, this postseason Ayton is the first player in the shot clock era (since 1954-55) with a 70% or better field goal percentage in any 12-game postseason span. He has had five 20-point, 10-rebound games this postseason, the most by a Suns player since Amar’e Stoudemire in 2007. “I’ve never played so hard from the jump ball to the end,” Ayton said. “A hundred and fifty percent. Usually, it’s like 110, but this is 150%. And it’s 150% mentally, too. Just the level of focus and the things you really have to pay attention to. It’s really intense, man.”
The cloud of the 2018 draft doesn’t follow Ayton. He has admitted in the past to being sensitive to perception and criticism, but put all of it behind him. “At the end of the day, we’re all different players,” Ayton said of comparisons to Doncic and Young. “I’m a 7-footer, big man, and they’re two point guards. I don’t know what you can compare. But me, I play as hard as I can. This is my team. I dominate the best way I can for this team and try to take this team as far as I can. Other than that, I trust my work, I trust my work ethic, I trust my craft.”
But with a chance to give them a three-point lead with 8.2 seconds left, George surprisingly missed both free throws despite coming into this game making 89.2% from the free throw line this postseason. “I’m not going to put too much on that,” George said afterward. “Obviously it was an opportunity that was missed. Pat made an unbelievable play that put me in position to extend the lead. I’m always confident at the free throw line. I’ve always been very successful in clutch moments at the free throw line.”
Meanwhile, the Clippers failed to capitalize on a game that was there for the taking, and now trail 2-0 for a third straight series this postseason. “This game, I’ve played a lot of games in this league, this one’s hard,” said Beverley, who got the start in Game 2. “This one goes up there. This is a hard game to kind of swallow because you look at this game, I mean, we got this game won, you know. “But we’ve been in the trenches before. We respond well in the trenches. We’ll respond well. We always do.”