This was the simple part. That’s not easy to ponder, given that we are talking about a man’s livelihood, but firing David Fizdale was an effortless response to … well, the effortless performances the Knicks have turned in over the last two games. Back-to-back no-shows speaks to a culture of apathy.
The coach pays for that.
But he shouldn’t pay alone. He can’t pay alone. The virus that infects the Knicks was never contained to Fizdale’s office; he was simply a carrier. The ultimate problem starts from on high, of course, because this is the owner’s toy and the Knicks have cratered under James Dolan’s thumb. We can have a separate discussion about the many ways Dolan annoys his basketball fans. The simplest truth is this:
Since the 1999-2000 season — that would be 20 years, if you’re keeping score at home — the Knicks have won one playoff series. One. They have four — four! — winning seasons. They have had 10 head coaches, not including interims. They have 626 wins against 938 losses. Look at both sides of that hyphen again: 626-938.
And Dolan has been in charge for most of that.
He has been his own worst enemy some times, but he has also been helped by a coterie of co-conspirators who have helped plunder a once-proud basketball kingdom: Isiah Thomas. Phil Jackson. Steve Mills. Scott Perry. Once upon a time, it was believed that every basketball misdemeanor was the work of poor Scott Layden. Remember him?
You could argue, if you like: That’s a hell of a run of bad luck.
Except Dolan also hired Donnie Walsh and Glen Grunwald, too, and both men tried to reverse the tide, and both men were on their way to doing just that when Dolan cast them out. Even when he has picked right, he has gone wrong. And here we are, 20 years down the path, the Knicks somehow an irrelevant afterthought in their own town, their building filled with tourists night after night, so many pure basketball fans driven away long ago.
That’s a bad track record. That’s the kind of track record that gets a man fired from just about any job in creation, unless he happens to own the company. Dolan isn’t firing himself. And unless Steve Cohen has an extra billion or three that’s burning a hole in his pocket and he wants to present himself as guardian angel to another precinct of distraught New York sports fan, it’s still Dolan’s call to make.
This is the first mandatory call:
Fire team president Steve Mills, who has shown, with utmost clarity, in two separate tours of duty, that he doesn’t have the goods to run a pro basketball team.
General manager Scott Perry is next. His sins are less egregious because he hasn’t been here as long. But he was right there, along with Mills, when the plot was hatched to send the Knicks in this direction. It might make people feel good to think that Kristaps Porzingis is the devil for the way he behaved last year, but it is worth remembering how successful managers react to such situations.
It’s important to remember how Pat Riley visited Patrick Ewing in his earliest hours as Knicks’ coach and basically re-recruited him to New York. You think Porzingis was unhappy? Ewing, in the spring of 1991, had already mentally checked out of town, eager to find a way elsewhere, anywhere. Riley had a vision, sold that vision. Ewing stayed.
Porzingis was exiled.
In its own way, what Mills and Perry did that day was treat Knicks fans to the kind of con job Bernie Madoff reserved for his best customers — a slick sell, the two of them writing poetry about cap space and lottery picks, waving a pile of gold in one hand so as to obscure the pile of manure in the other.
Knicks fans are desperate to believe. They believed. They bought in. Then watched Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the two jewels of free agency — two players the Knicks earmarked for themselves quite clearly, even if they never said so directly — land on the other side of the Manhattan Bridge.
The reward is a mish-mash roster with which no one — not David Fizdale, not David Copperfield — could win. Fans pay top dollar to watch Julius Randle dribble a lot and turn the ball over at a preposterous rate. Everyone seems to have already fallen out of love with Kevin Knox, last year’s lottery pick, which has to be at least a little unsettling to RJ Barrett, this year’s lottery pick.
At the end, there was so little effort. Go to any YMCA in the city and you’ll see 50-year-old bankers eager to dive on loose balls and guard the occasional shooter. Just not the big Y at 33rd and Eighth. The next banner they raise should be a white flag, signaling surrender and the start of a new plan. Maybe Masai Ujiri can be coaxed (or kidnapped) here. Maybe Bryan Colangelo. Or Sam Presti.
Of course, the one nagging question will always be this:
Who would ever possibly want this job?
For more on the Knicks, listen to the latest episode of the “Big Apple Buckets” podcast:
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