Things certainly didn’t look good for Knicks coach David Fizdale following Sunday night’s embarrassing home loss to the Cavaliers, which saw the Knicks score just 36 first-half points, fall behind by as many as 30 points and shoot a measly 36.0 percent from the field while committing 21 turnovers.
And the reverberations of that loss are still being felt the following day. That’s because Knicks president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry took to the podium for a postgame interview with reporters that, at its most benign, could be seen as a way to ratchet up pressure on Fizdale.
A more cynical view, however, would be that Mills and Perry were setting up Fizdale to take the fall for New York’s disastrous 2-8 start.
That was the gist of one report from ESPN on Monday, which suggested that Mills and Perry were suggesting to team owner James Dolan that this version of the Knicks should be more competitive and that a lack of consistency and execution—which is to say, a lack of diligent enough coaching, not a lack of enough talent—were to blame for the team’s bumbling beginnings.
That, of course, is debatable. But Knicks culture under Dolan has long forced decision-makers to worry first about self-preservation and Mills knows that lesson well. He has been with the team, on-and-off, since 2003.
Problem is, should Fizdale be ousted, what will the Knicks do next? This is a franchise, after all, that has missed the playoffs six straight seasons, with a 163-329 record in that span.
But it’s still an attractive job because, for one thing, the Knicks pay well. Fizdale is making $5.5 million per season. More important, as one assistant coach put it, “They won 17 (games) last year. They’re 2-8. You don’t have to win a whole lot to make it look like you’ve improved some things and the future could be good depending on the draft.”
So who’s on the list should Fizdale be run out of town? Most likely the Knicks would pluck an interim, like veteran coach Keith Smart, from Fizdale’s staff and wait to hire a replacement until the offseason, when assistant coaches from around the league would be available.
But if the goal is to get to the playoffs, a new permanent coach sooner rather than later makes some sense. The pool would be more limited but, among the potential candidates:
Mark Jackson. The ABC/ESPN analyst and former Warriors coach was a candidate for the job in 2018 and considering the lofty aspirations of the front office, it might be time to pull the trigger on giving Jackson a chance. He left Golden State in 2014 amid some controversy, but he did win 51 games in his final season there. As a New Yorker who went to St. John’s, Jackson would be an obvious fit. If Fizdale was the modest, forward-thinking hire for the Knicks in 2018, Jackson would be the splashy gamble for 2019.
Kenny Smith. Smith, the longtime TNT analyst, also interviewed for the job last year before the Knicks went with Fizdale. He’s also a New York guy and made no bones about the fact that he’d like the role. A few days after the Knicks hired Fizdale, Smith jokingly said in a TMZ interview, “They made the right choice but not the best choice.”
Chauncey Billups. He has a close relationship with Perry going back to their days together in Detroit, when Billups was a star guard and Perry was in the front office. Perry tried to get Billups to join Frank Vogel’s staff in Orlando when Perry was the assistant GM there in 2016, but Billups declined. Billups did play for the Knicks in 2011, logging 17.5 points in 21 games. But he injured his knee in the playoff opener and moved on in free agency thereafter. Billups has expressed interest in running a team but has been gun-shy about coaching.
Mike Woodson. Hey why not? Woodson coached the Knicks from the middle of the lockout 2012 season through the 2013-14 season and was a candidate for the Lakers job that eventually went to Vogel. Woodson, remember, was ahead of his time in the league’s 3-point revolution. Since 2012, only two teams other than the long-distance-happy Rockets have led the league in 3-point attempts—the Warriors in 2015-16 and Woodson’s Knicks in 2012-13. That team won 54 games, won a playoff series and also happened to be the best version of the Knicks in the last two decades.
Tom Thibodeau. Once upon a time, it seemed inevitable that Thibodeau, who had a seven-year run as a Knicks assistant with Jeff Van Gundy, would somehow wind up as the Knicks’ head coach. He did help shape up the Timberwolves for their first playoff appearance in 14 years in 2018 but wound up in a messy split from the organization in January. It would be a shocker if the Knicks turned to Thibodeau, but among free-agent coaches, he has one of the best resumes.