Want more basketball in your inbox? Sign up for Marc Stein’s weekly N.B.A. newsletter here.
The Knicks on Friday fired Coach David Fizdale with the team on pace to record the worst season in franchise history.
Fizdale’s ouster was confirmed by a person with knowledge of the decision who was not authorized to discuss it publicly. ESPN first reported the firings of Fizdale and the assistant coach Keith Smith, which occurred after Fizdale ran the team’s practice on Friday morning.
Fizdale was doomed by a 4-18 start, which included eight consecutive defeats — the past two at home by a combined 81 points to Milwaukee and Denver. Such margins are often regarded in the N.B.A. as clear signs that the players are no longer responding to the coach.
The reality, though, is that Fizdale had been on the brink of dismissal since Nov. 10, when the Knicks lost by 21 to the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers at Madison Square Garden. That defeat prompted the team president, Steve Mills, and General Manager Scott Perry to meet during the second half with the team owner, James L. Dolan, and then hold an unexpected postgame news conference in which they said that the team was falling short of expectations.
The Knicks did not immediately name an interim coach, but The Athletic reported earlier this week that one of two assistants — Mike Miller or Pat Sullivan — would be elevated in the event Fizdale was fired.
The Knicks are 2-10 since the Cleveland loss and have looked less and less competitive. Yet Fizdale’s departure, with a 21-83 record that sticks him with the lowest winning percentage of any coach in team history at .202, would appear to shift the pressure onto Mills and Perry.
The Knicks were 17-65 last season, matching the franchise record for losses in a season, but they were largely prioritizing draft position over winning. The team’s management clearly expected a much more competitive squad this season, only to find the Knicks on pace to finish 15-67.
In February, Mills and Perry dealt Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas in a blockbuster trade that also enabled the Knicks to shed the onerous contracts of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee.
Dolan hinted at big things in free agency, saying in a March radio interview that free agents want to come to the team.
In a letter to season-ticket holders in April, Mills and Perry described an “extremely bright” future thanks to the Porzingis trade, which positioned the Knicks to “potentially sign up to two max free agents.”
But the Knicks could only watch helplessly on June 30 when the Nets — with no history as a destination for stars — secured free-agent commitments from Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Hours after seeing Durant and Irving land with the Nets, Mills issued a statement to the news media acknowledging that “while we understand that some Knicks fans could be disappointed with tonight’s news, we continue to be upbeat and confident in our plans to rebuild the Knicks to compete for championships in the future, through both the draft and targeted free agents.”
In an October radio interview, Durant shed some light on how much the Knicks’ stature has diminished under Dolan since the franchise’s last trip to the N.B.A. finals in 1999, saying that younger players, unlike fans, don’t remember the Knicks ever being good.
“I remember the Knicks being in the finals, but the kids after me didn’t see that. So the brand of the Knicks isn’t as cool to them as, let’s say, the Golden State Warriors or even the Lakers or the Nets now,” Durant said. “The cool thing right now is not the Knicks.”
A coaching change is bound to lead to better efforts from the Knicks, but their problems run far deeper.
Neither Dennis Smith Jr., the standout player acquired from Dallas in the Porzingis trade, nor Kevin Knox, the Knicks’ top draft pick in 2018, has shown signs of progress this season. The players Mills and Perry did manage to sign in July when they whiffed on Durant and Irving have created a logjam at power forward.
The website fivethirtyeight.com, run by Nate Silver, projected the Knicks to finish 20-62 after the summer signings of Julius Randle, Marcus Morris, Taj Gibson and Bobby Portis.
Fizdale is not even halfway through a four-year, $22 million deal he signed with the Knicks heading into last season. He said after losing 129-92 to the Nuggets on Thursday night that he was not concerned about being fired.
“I don’t care about all that,” Fizdale said. “I don’t even think about that really. I think about the next team we’re playing, I think about the guys in the locker room and how I can help them. At the end of the day, that’s all I care about.”
This was Fizdale’s second head coaching job after a successful stint as an assistant coach with the Miami Heat, but he lasted less than two seasons both times. He was fired as coach of the Memphis Grizzlies after a 7-12 start in the 2017-18 season, after reaching the playoffs in Memphis in his first season with a record of 43-39.