It’s not on me.
That was coach David Fizdale’s claim the day after Kristaps Porzingis expressed dissatisfaction with the direction and culture of the Knicks and wouldn’t give the franchise a long-term commitment.
That precipitated Knicks president Steve Mills to cut his losses, ship Porzingis to Dallas and to open up two max-salary slots before Thursday’s trade deadline.
Fizdale said too much past baggage existed for Porzingis to commit to the long-term future, but the Knicks coach won’t blame it on the team’s league-worst, rock-bottom 10-40 record entering Friday’s game against the Celtics. He said he and Porzingis “left it in a great place’’ when they spoke on the phone.
“This is what the situation called for,’’ Fizdale said. “I never got to coach him. I was excited to coach him. We had a really good relationship, but he had to make a decision and he felt that it was best that he get a fresh start. You never want to see a player go. But where we are I’m excited about our future.”
Fizdale was not at Thursday’s meeting that Mills and general manager Scott Perry initiated with Porzingis. Labeling Porzingis’ stance as demanding a trade is overstating matters. Mills put Porzingis on the spot, saying he needed a commitment from him for the long-term future because of the Feb. 7 trade deadline. Porzingis wouldn’t give one, and one thing led to another.
Fizdale has raved all season — even as recently as 10 days ago — about Porzingis being “engaged.’’ But Fizdale denied it was an exaggeration. Mills said Porzingis started showing up to fewer practices recently.
“I wouldn’t say [things were] not right,’’ Fizdale said. “I never felt that. But like Scott and Steve said [Thursday] night, we felt like over a short amount of time we started to feel some distance and some indicators that we felt like we had to clear up some things to get clarity and that’s why they met.
“I wouldn’t say [I] exaggerated. I’d say 10 days, a lot of stuff can happen. You can’t really put a thumb on when it starts, when the disengagement starts. But you can feel it. This is a people’s league. We’re not robots. And so there’s days where a guy could be overly engaged and in a film session just into all that, and then two days later he can feel out of it. Or maybe absent, a spot here, spot there. You just start to feel that vibe.
“I just like that it was clean. Both parties came together and talked it out face to face, expressed how they felt. It wasn’t a messy deal. I just thought that was class on both parties’ part.”
Fizdale is trying to build a winning culture and had no intention of sinking to the bottom of the NBA. But that is what has happened. Early last season, The Post reported the Knicks weren’t looking to tank in 2018-19 because they needed to show Porzingis this new regime was about winning. The Knicks were 29-53 last season.
Could Fizdale have done anything to make Porzingis happier?
“I can’t think that way,’’ Fizdale said. “He’s obviously been here and dealt with whatever he needed to deal with throughout the course of his career. I can’t personalize that and put that on me. Obviously, I worked really hard to build a great relationship with him, going to Latvia and really trying to involve him in a lot of the stuff we’re doing. But these guys have to make decisions that are best for them and he felt that was the best for them.”
The Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol, a native of Spain, is a free agent, but all the other top guys this summer are from the United States. Fizdale has warred with Gasol and Enes Kanter (who is a Turkish native), and now Porzingis apparently isn’t yet sold on the Knicks coach.
Fizdale’s charisma and engaging personality will be the Knicks’ best selling point in July when their aggressive free-agent goal is to pair Kevin Durant with Kyrie Irving, who has changed his stance about definitely re-signing in Boston. Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Kemba Walker and Klay Thompson are also free agents, and perhaps having two of those players team up makes that group more viable.
Could Porzingis’ unhappiness hurt the Knicks’ image?
“That’s not a fair assessment to Scott Perry, that’s not a fair assessment for me,’’ Fizdale said. “We just got here. We’re trying to build something from the ground up. This isn’t for everybody. We’re trying to build something that everybody feels valued and included and a part of. But it doesn’t mean everybody is going to want to be a part of it. We’re trying to create an environment to get people that really want to be here, who want to build this with us and unfortunately that wasn’t the case.”
Fizdale said he and Porzingis held a pleasant phone conversation Thursday night after the trade was officially consummated.
“We had a great conversation,’’ Fizdale said. “We laughed about it, like we never even got to get on the court together like we wanted to. The league is funny how it works. We left it in a great place. The whole time we were together here, I really felt like we had a good relationship. I leave with no regrets with that.’’
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