Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Amid speculation about David Fizdale's job status, the coach said on Tuesday that Knicks owner James Dolan regularly gives him a 'vote of confidence' during visits on game night.
Fizdale was asked at Knicks practice on Tuesday how regularly he speaks to Dolan.
"Every game, every game. Jim Dolan comes in and gives me a vote of confidence, a pat on my back and really has just been incredibly encouraging over the last year and a half or whatever it's been," Fizdale said. "All we talk about is just sticking to the process of making these guys better and building for a future of sustainable winning."
Speculation over Fizdale's job security arose in the wake of president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry holding an impromptu press conference after the Knicks' 21-point loss to Cleveland last Sunday. Mills and Perry said they supported their coach but bemoaned a lack of consistency from the Knicks, who were 2-8 at the time.
ESPN reported the following day that Mills was laying the groundwork internally to fire Fizdale, who is in his second year as Knicks coach.
SNY reported that night that no in-season firing of Fizdale, Mills or Perry was imminent but that members of the organization weren't ruling out the possibility. "Everyone is on notice," someone with knowledge of the organization's thinking said a day after Mills and Perry's press conference.
Dolan had a conversation with Mills and other members of the front office the day after the press conference. Per SNY sources, Mills and management came away with the impression that they would be safe if New York showed progress.
The Knicks are 2-2 since Mills and Perry addressed the media, presumably at the direction of Dolan, who was understandably unhappy with the club's rough start.
Fizdale said on Tuesday that he had no issue with Mills and Perry addressing the media after the Cleveland loss. Traditionally, head coaches address the media after games. It's rare for front office members to address the media in that setting. Fizdale said he didn't know Mills and Perry were going to talk to the media when they did.
"But at the same time I wasn't disappointed our shocked or anything like that. It was like, "We do got to play better basketball. We do got to get to a place where we start to trust eachother and do the things necessary to give ourselves a chance to win every night," he said. " So we (he, Mills and Perry) spoke immediately after that and, like I said, I'm in the trench with those guys."
Fizdale was asked on Tuesday if Mills and Perry gave any concrete benchmarks after the press conference for what they'd like to see with regards to the team being more competitive. Fizdale said those expectations have been clear from the beginning of the season, hinting that there was no need for clarification.
"We talk every day. We spend a lot of time together, the three of us," he said. "They're extensions of the coaching staff in a lot of ways cause they spend time with the players. I spend time with their staff. Our group is connected from the that standpoint and our expectations are the same from what we want from this team. That's why I was unfazed by all of the noise around it because we have an expectation of how hard we want to play, how well we want to execute, how connected we want to be as a team. I think over the last three games we've been seeing that."
The Knicks haven't had much stability at the coaching position or in the front office over the past 20 years. Much of that is attributed to Dolan, though the owner has mostly stayed out of basketball decisions since he hired ex-team president Phil Jackson in 2014. It seemed like the organization was headed toward more coaching turnover, but Dolan's votes of confidence for Fizdale suggest that his firing isn't imminent.
Fizdale said he appreciates the visits from the owner.
"It's huge, but you gotta remember something: I signed on to come here to contribute to building a culture. The building of a culture is not an easy thing. What usually happens is teams fragment when things get tough. But what we've done is we've gotten more connected," he said. "We've come together more. That is the first sign of a real culture starting to develop. We understood that this process was going to be difficult. I don't think anybody had any misconceptions about that."
"But we also have a standard that we gotta hold ourselves to, to perform at a higher level from an effort standpoint. We just felt like our effort was becoming inconsistent. That's the first thing we wanted to address as a group and I think we're getting there."
Fizdale was asked if the most important factor for New York going forward is that the club is competitive in games. He agreed with the idea. New York had lost five games by at least 18 points prior to winning two of its last three.
"We're still developing kids. I know we added some veterans, but we still got a 19-year-old, couple 20-year-olds, 21-year-olds. Julius Randle is 24 and hasn't played on a playoff team yet," he said. "….So we're still growing a young team and that's where guys like Marcus Morris and Taj Gibson and Wayne Ellington are really helping us mold this thing. Bobby Portis is 24. These guys are kids still. Although we're developing them, we just feel like we're trying to fast-track them a little more now. We're trying to put more accountability on what it takes to win. Whether you win the game or not, you can't control all of that. But are we getting closer to doing the things necessary to give ourselves a chance."
On Dolan, Fizdale said that the owner sometimes visits the Knicks. He's been known to visit regularly with Knicks coaches in their offices before games.
"He'll visit the team sometimes too. He always gives the guys pep talks. He'll come in a couple times here and there during the year and give the guys pep talks and tell them how much he appreciates their effort and their professionalism," Fizdale said. " I think that's a great thing. It connects him to the group. I invite that, because the best cultures I've ever been a part of is from top to bottom, that we all know each other, that we're all connected and we all show we care."
"After a good win sometimes he'll pop in," Fizdale added. "And sometimes pregame when he feels like we're going through a tough stretch or something and the guys need a little boost, he'll come in and tell them, 'Hang in there. You guys just stick together and keep being the pros that you are. You're working hard, things will work out.'"