Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Knicks training camp has some intriguing storylines.
We'll all be keeping an eye on RJ Barrett, the position battles (Dennis Smith Jr. and Elfrid Payton at point guard, for one), Mitchell Robinson's progression, Frank Ntilikina's status, etc.
It will be interesting to see who starts and who comes off the bench in preseason games and who earns a spot in the regular-season rotation.
Clearly, David Fizdale has plenty of options with his lineups this year. It also seems like he has some difficult decisions to make.
The Knicks, on paper, have at least 12 players who you'd think have a shot at making the regular rotation. (That doesn't count Reggie Bullock, who is expected to miss at least one month of the regular season.)
So there will be nights when players who entered training camp expecting minutes/a regular role don't see the floor.
Of course, all NBA coaches are faced with several tough calls on lineups/rotations. That's the nature of the business.
But there's an added wrinkle for Fizdale that, in one coach's mind, makes his job this season "really difficult": Fizdale will have to balance the goal of winning games with developing the Knicks' younger players.
Those two objectives can sometimes be at odds, as we saw last season.
The Knicks have several veteran free agents on short-term deals who, presumably, expect to get minutes and shots this season. That's an element that probably makes Fizdale's job this season all the more challenging.
"It's safe to say that it's going to be tough to keep everyone in that locker room happy," the coach said.
With all of that in mind, we asked several coaches to share their thoughts on Fizdale's mission this season -- winning games, developing young players, navigating a roster with several vets on short-term deals -- and the inherent challenges it brings.
(All coaches spoke on the condition of anonymity so they could feel comfortable expressing their opinions.)
Current NBA coach
"I think it's a huge challenge. In order to develop those younger players, they have to play. That's the No. 1 part of development. Drills in practice are only so good. If you're going to really grow and improve, you have to play in this league. And when you have these veterans that are on these short-term deals, they want to play too. They'll help the younger guys in some ways but they want to be on the floor, they want to perform so they can get the next contract. Then you run into, if (Julius) Randle and (Kevin) Knox play the same position, and Randle's better, where is Knox going to play? He has to see the floor. So it's going to make it difficult. And he can't play all of the guards and wings they have. There's only so many minutes to go around."
Former NBA coach 1
"(Balancing the goals of developing young players with soon-to-be free agents on the roster) can definitely be difficult. The guys who signed on short deals didn't come here to be on the bench. But I think he has an obligation to play those young guys - Barrett, Knox, Robinson and the rest of them. Because the Knicks need to find out who to keep going forward. So do you play the lineups that give you the best chance to win? Or do you play the younger guys because you need to see what they have? In a perfect world, those young guys are part of your best lineups."
Of course, it's way too early -- and probably unfair -- to assume that the free agents who signed here will cause friction if they don't play. It's also unfair to assume that the young players wouldn't except a reserve role behind one of the free-agent signees.
In a perfect world for the Knicks, all players accept their roles and Fizdale finds a combination of lineups that helps them win some games. Then, the division of minutes shots shouldn't be a major issue for Fizdale. Players who get DNPs on winning teams are less likely to grumble publicly about their roles.
And not all coaches believe that the veterans who are on short-term deals will hurt the development of the younger players. One former coach believes the Knicks' approach - surrounding the young players with vets - can be beneficial to New York's youthful core.
Former NBA coach 2
"Putting veteran guys around the (young players), I don't think it hurts. These veteran guys are on short-term contracts. I've had that before. The vets are going to be hungry enough to play and prove themselves. And if they do it right, you know, most veteran guys are not going to show their ass to the point where they become disruptive for the coach. Because they're still trying to get paid too, get another deal. So it's kind of a two-way street. You can come in there as a veteran and try to be an a--hole, then you screw yourself down the road. But in this day and time, I think veterans are a little smarter than that. To the point where they'll try to do what the coach asks them to do and hopefully in doing that, you win. And then you'll get that next contract. But look, at the end of the day, it comes down to coaching and it comes down to chemistry. And the coaches have to show that they've helped the young players get better this year."
Current NBA coach
"With the Knicks, you're also thinking, 'What's their identity? How do they want to play?' You look at Brooklyn (over the last few seasons) and they had a plan and a style. They shot threes, they played fast, they defended. I didn't know the Knicks' identity last year. And in general, you just hope that (Fizdale) gets a fair shot. I don't know if their other recent coaches got a fair shot. You just hope that he's part of the plan and that the team fits who he is as a coach."
To that point, team president Steve Mills, GM Scott Perry and Fizdale said several times last season that they work collaboratively. So the Knicks' triumvirate should be on the same page ahead of what feels like a crucial year.
With Mills and Perry are entering their third season together, it's safe to assume that the Knicks need to show some progress in 2019-20.
You get the sense that no one at the Garden is going to be thrilled with another 17-win season. The Knicks have lost at least 50 games in five straight seasons; this summer was supposed to be the light at the end of a long and dark tunnel, but New York missed out on its top free agent targets. Two of those targets (Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving) signed with their cross-town rivals.
So it's safe to assume that this group needs to take a step forward in 2019-20 to keep everyone at MSG happy.
Does that mean winning 30 games? Thirty-five? Only top decision-makers know the answer to that question.
All we know is that Fizdale will play a crucial role in how it all unfolds.