David Fizdale the right coach for this Knicks rebuild

The Knicks did the right thing Thursday. They hired the right man. That doesn’t fix everything. It doesn’t guarantee anything. But hiring David Fizdale is a step in the right direction, a big step. Fizdale alone doesn’t make them champions or even winners. But it puts them on the right path, points them in the right direction. You start with that.

Fizdale isn’t Red Auerbach, he isn’t Red Holzman, and right now you’d have to say he isn’t even his old boss and his old friend in Miami, Erik Spoelstra. He’s a young coach who had some early speed as an NBA boss in Memphis, making the playoffs his first year, and then ran into a 7-foot speed bump named Marc Gasol and it went sideways for him from there. He’s made mistakes and will make more. He’s had growing pains and will have more. But he was the right man at the start of this process and winds up the right choice at the end. The Knicks got this right.

Because what the Knicks need most, right now, is leadership, they need a guy with a confident voice and an able foundation who will start the slow process of making them a competitive team, and then a representative team and then, in time, a winning team. By all indications
Fizdale fits that bill. By all indications he is the right guy.

Now, the Knicks have hired the right guy before. Mike D’Antoni was the right guy once upon a time. He won big in Phoenix before and has won big in Houston since and didn’t win near enough in New York. Larry Brown was the right guy once upon a time; he’s won everywhere else he’s ever been, starting with the Carolina Cougars of the ABA, all the way to the Naismith Hall of Fame. Didn’t win here. Didn’t work here. It happens. Nothing is guaranteed.

But Steve Mills and Scott Perry have gotten themselves a guy who knows how to coach and that’s precisely what the Knicks need right now. Whatever red flags his soured relationship with Gasol may raise, there’s plenty of testimonials from players all over the league to offset that, that will back up Fizdale as a good coach, a smart coach, a clever motivator and a fine strategist. And this is a franchise yearning, desperately, for all of those qualities in its head coach.

Because the Knicks are three to five years away from making any kind of substantial impact at the top of the league. It is a time rife with hard truths: They will have to watch the Warriors play themselves out West, and closer to home they’ll have to let the Celtics play themselves out right in their own division. They will have to see where LeBron James winds up next year and what that means for them and everyone else in the league. All of that is true. All of that is real.

So is this: the Knicks are better now than they were yesterday, they are better now than they were this season. They are better off with David Fizdale as their coach than they ever were under Jeff Hornacek.

This is a time of profound change around the Knicks under Mills and Perry, who aren’t merely trying to change the culture that has strangled the franchise for 18 years but blow it up entirely. They began the process last year when they shipped Carmelo Anthony to Oklahoma City at the end of a process every bit as deliberate as this coaching search. Now they try to build a blueprint for success in New York at a time when so many wonder if that’s even possible anymore.

It will be a slow, torturous trip. What we know for certain is the Knicks need more players, better players than they have now. We know they need to get Kristaps Porzingis back, healthy, and playing at a level near where he was at the start of last season, when it was still OK to feel reasonably good about the Knicks’ fortunes. That will be Fizdale’s biggest challenge, along with cultivating Frank Ntilikina and whomever they happen to get out of this year’s lottery, and whatever pieces they can assemble the first couple of years.

It starts there. It starts with that. Fizdale won’t be handed a playoff-caliber team as he was in Memphis and that is probably for the best. Let him establish something here. Let him make this a destination place. And then let’s see if some of the players who speak so highly of him now want to join him in a few years. That is certainly what Perry and Mills want to see. And it’s what Knicks fans ought to want to see, too.

For what they’ve seen, too often, are false starts and half-measures and if there is one clear thing about the Mills-Perry partnership, it’s that they will be exhaustive in making their choices. Happened with Melo. Happened here. The Knicks are better off for both slow processes. They did the right thing hiring David Fizdale. Now all we need to know is if they’ll be rewarded for that in a tangible way.

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