On David Fizdale’s first day as Knicks coach, he carried an intriguing message: all five starting spots are open.
Fizdale’s hope is that such an open battle — occurring despite three returning regular starters from last season’s squad (Enes Kanter, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee) — will lead to a competitive and fiery training camp. He was pleased Monday with the returns.
“They all have a little taste for going after it,” the coach said. “I think the fairness of it is what creates that competition – that you have a fair shot to earn minutes and earn a starting spot. You can’t help but bring energy to that knowing you’re going to get a chance.”
Shooting guard Hardaway Jr. and center Kanter should be frontrunners for starting positions, but, if Fizdale is believed, they’re not locks. The Knicks carry five guards who started games last season – Hardaway, Emmanuel Mudiay, Trey Burke, Frank Ntilikina and Lee – and there’s only one week before Monday’s preseason opener at Washington.
“Nobody’s starting right now. He has no starters right now for Game 1 on Monday,” rookie Kevin Knox said. “So he’s basically telling us you’ve got to compete and you’ve got to fight for your job. It’s a good message for us. Now we have to come out, we gotta fight every day in practice.”
Knox, the ninth overall pick and a hyped rookie, is fighting for one of the forward spots against Lance Thomas and Mario Hezonja. However, Fizdale hinted that Knox’s first day at the training facility was uneven, and that’s what he expected from a 19-year-old.
“It’s going to happen. There’s going to be ups and there’s going to be downs,” Fizdale said. “But he was good today. He competed hard. He made some nice plays. I’m mentally prepared for these young guys to go through this roller coaster. I’m not going to go on the roller coaster with them. I’m going to stay even, understanding what they’re going through and coach them through it.”
Knox acknowledged he was nervous, which was alleviated somewhat when Fizdale had the whole team perform breathing exercises. (Even if Phil Jackson is gone, some of his Zen principles remain).
“Before practice, he kind of has everyone line up and get into our breathing exercises,” Knox said. “It kind of just calms our nerves, gets us to slow down a little bit before practice so we can easily think right and perform at a high level.”
As Fizdale’s been saying since he was hired, he doesn’t plan to push his personality and philosophies too hard – at least not right away. In Memphis as the head coach, he redesigned the team’s facility by changing the paint color, hanging motivational messages and preaching, “The Miami Heat Way.” It didn’t go over well with the veterans, and he was fired by his second season. Fizdale hopes a change in the culture in New York will occur “organically.” But the coach isn’t abandoning one of the most important principles he picked up from his time as an assistant in Miami: fitness first.
Last week he had each Knick undergo a timed sprinting test, if only to keep them on their toes. He was satisfied with the results.
“I just said, ‘Hey we’ve got a test, this is the test and if you don’t make it you’ve got to keep running it ’til you make it,’” Fizdale said. “You’re in July you’re going to start saying, ‘Yeah, I’d better start running.’ Luckily these guys really took that to heart and came in here and blew that test away.”