The Knicks, at 4-17 and with a seven-game losing streak that was highlighted this week by a 44-point loss to the Bucks in Milwaukee, are a mess. There was some suspicion that they would be a mess coming into the season, having traded away Kristaps Porzingis last year for a limited return package, then having missed out on Zion Williamson in the draft and star players of any caliber in free agency.
Of course, it should not be considered that terrible a thing that the Knicks are such a terrible thing. Over the years, the organization’s unwillingness to bottom out, collect top-tier players in the draft and shun signing so-so free agents to long-term contracts has been one of the hindrances to rebuilding.
The Knicks, though, have been doing that. They have three young players—R.J. Barrett, Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson—worth developing and a couple of others (Dennis Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina) who are still too young to give up on entirely. They’re in position to get another top-tier youngster next June.
And the contracts on the books have left the franchise very agile. That space could have been used better to collect picks and absorb bad contracts—as the Nets, for example, did for years and the Hawks are doing now—but still, the Knicks have no fully guaranteed money on the books beyond next season and only about $50 million accounted for heading into next summer.
It’s not a bad position. The Knicks might be short on talent and hard to watch, but they’re lean and in position to make a blockbuster if one presents itself. For most of the last decade-plus, the franchise has been short on talent and hard to watch, but also bloated and saddled with albatross contracts.
But Knicks owner James Dolan has never been one to willingly take his bitter medicine and since the Knicks are exactly where they need to be, the rumors have been coming fast that New York will be soon making a change. Coach David Fizdale appears to be the lamb the team will sacrifice, though when that might happens remains a matter of debate.
According to the New York Post, the axing of Fizdale is, “going to take a little while longer.” According to SNY, however, one member of the organization said, “he expected management to fire Fizdale soon.”
The Knicks’ record falls, in part, on Fizdale’s lap. But even if Fizdale had coached his tail off, how much better would the Knicks be, really? Maybe three or four more wins? So, 7-14, 8-13? That would get the Knicks nothing but a draft pick later in the lottery.
This will be a coveted job should Fizdale get canned, and if the Knicks were looking for a new coach immediately, as though this season could be saved, there would be some choices:
Dave Joerger. He was Fizdale’s predecessor in Memphis, so why not make him his successor in New York? Joerger has had a difficult time working within organizational structures, both with the Grizzlies and with the Kings after that—he was let go by Sacramento despite showing progress last season. He won 39 games with the Kings, the most since 2006. His history may be that of a guy who just would not fit in with the front office of the Knicks but he’s had success dealing with young and generally hopeless teams.
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.