The cord has been pulled. David Fizdale is no longer head coach of the New York Knicks, replaced on an interim basis by Mike Miller. It was a move that was inevitable once team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry had their impromptu press conference after a disappointing 2-8 start. It was also a move that had to be made sooner rather than later.
Fizdale has not proven to be a capable head coach. It is true that the roster he was given this year was lacking in talent, and poorly constructed. Even if he maximized the players he was given, the Knicks might not have gotten past 30 wins. But he does not have a roster that should be on pace for 15 wins and is increasingly noncompetitive and lifeless.
As bad as the 4-18 record might be, Fizdale’s failures have more to do with specific deficiencies that are obvious to anyone that watches the team on a nightly basis. The team’s offense is isolation heavy, which is something Fizdale admitted to earlier in the season and contended was not a problem since the Rockets succeed in an isolation-heavy system. There was no mention of who the Knicks’ James Harden was supposed to be.
His lineups and rotations were confounding. He plays too many big men at the same time and fails to put enough shooters in the lineup to spread the floor. Refusing to deviate from starting Marcus Morris and Julius Randle and insisting on using them on the floor at the same time with another center made little sense.
The Knicks’ young players have shown little progress. After Kevin Knox was given free reign as a rookie to make any mistake he wanted without any repercussions, Fizdale is now showing him tough love and limiting his minutes this season. Knox’s defense and court awareness have shown little improvement. Mitchell Robinson might be more undisciplined as a second-year player than he was as a rookie. Allonzo Trier is glued to the bench.
The Knicks rarely ran effective plays out of timeouts. Their plays at the end of games were bland and uninspired. They often deteriorated into low-percentage shots. Defensively, Fizdale constantly changed his most basic principles, such as his pick-and-roll strategy. With a young team, the constant shifting in principles prevented them from gaining any consistency on defense.
Fizdale’s ability to reach his players was his saving grace, but as the team stopped competing more and more frequently, even that strength was fading away. He also failed as a recruiter in free agency to pull in any superstars over the summer.
In 104 games as Knicks head coach, Fizdale failed to establish any sort of identity on offense or defense. There was no indication, other than his words at press conferences, of how Fizdale actually wanted his team to play basketball on offense or defense.
The bottom line is that Fizdale didn’t show he could utilize the talent at his disposal to put a competent product on the court. He doesn’t seem to understand things as basic as what kind of players need to be on the floor together to win in the modern NBA. He also didn’t show he could be trusted to develop the Knicks’ young players.
It is fairly obvious that when the Knicks do eventually acquire the talent necessary to complete, Fizdale was not the person to bring the best out of them. It’s why firing him is the right decision.
The Knicks made assistant coach Miller, their former G League head coach, their interim head coach. Miller was G League Coach of the Year in 2017-18, and during his last two seasons with the Westchester Knicks, his teams were some of the best defensive teams in the league. He has experience as a college head coach at Texas State and Eastern Illinois and worked with the Knicks front office to develop players at Westchester.
Miller’s priorities should be simple. He needs to establish an offensive and defensive philosophy and stick to it. He needs to hold both the veterans and youngsters accountable to the basic tenants of good basketball. Perhaps most importantly, he needs to put his players, especially the developing ones, in positions to succeed. Developing the Knicks’ young players needs to take precedence over playing veterans who are on one-year contracts.
The Knicks would be wise to allow Miller to finish out the season, rather than committing to a full-time coach for the long-term in the middle of the season. Mills’ failures as team president might put him in Dolan’s crosshairs once the regular season is over, so allowing him to choose a coach now makes very little sense.
The bigger problems for the Knicks remain their roster and Mills’ inability to build a competitive one for the modern NBA. His ability to choose players in the draft and free agency has been suspect. The Porzingis trade looks like a failure.
If this roster fails with Miller, Mills should pay the price for his mistakes after the season. The Knicks will then need to find a new president and allow him to pick a coach who will help build the team the way he desires. The next president is a far more important hire than the next coach. There’s a substantial amount of roster building that still needs to be done.
The Knicks are again at a crossroads, but the most important decision will not come until Mills is out of a job and they are searching for his replacement. It is Miller’s job to hold the fort down until the time comes. If he shows that he should be considered for the position long-term, all the better. Miller is not going to solve all, or even most, of the Knicks’ problems, but if he can develop the young players on the team and even win some games, he can salvage an otherwise disastrous season.