The Knicks opened their 2018-19 regular season schedule last night (Wednesday) at Madison Square Garden versus the Atlanta Hawks with a team that will struggle to exceed last season’s win total of 31.
It is another reset as names such as Isiah Thomas, Mike D’Antoni, Larry Brown, Mike Woodson, Donnie Walsh and Phil Jackson are distant echoes in the minds of long suffering fans, remembrances of what could have been and never should have been.
The current Knicks regime, headed by team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry, won’t be in the business of purposely putting an uncompetitive product on the court, as the Philadelphia 76ers did from the 2013 season through the 2016 campaign. It was a four-year tank dubbed “The Process” that yielded high lottery picks Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, now the core of one of the most promising young teams in the NBA.
It will be the charge of the Knicks’ new head coach, Dave Fizdale, to grow and mold his roster into one that by season’s end will have the look and feel of a team with a bright future. Similar to the 76ers, who were without the supremely gifted 24-year-old center Embiid for his first two seasons as he recovered from a broken navicular bone in his foot, the Knicks will have to make do minus their best player, All-Star forward-center Kristaps Porzingis, who turned 23 this past August.
Porzingis suffered a torn ACL in his left knee last February and might go the Embiid route of missing all 82 games. It is probably the prudent path for both Porzingis and the organization as his return late in the season will have little tangible value and only move the Knicks further down in the lottery by adding a few relatively insignificant wins.
The 44-year-old Fizdale is viewing this season through a pragmatic prism, having been an assistant coach for the LeBron James Miami Heat teams that went to four straight Finals and won two titles before his first head coaching gig with the Memphis Grizzlies, which lasted all of 101 games. It will be a laborious challenge for the Los Angeles native and his players on many nights but an opportunity to build a strong foundation with rookie frontcourt players Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson, and second-year guard Frank Ntilikina.
“These games are much more about preparing, getting our team better at what we do,” said Fizdale last Friday after the Knicks’ final preseason game at the Garden against the Brooklyn Nets, “not as much about our opponent right now.”
He continued, “We will put time in preparing for our opponent as we always do, but right now I would say a big chunk of just this year in general is about developing our players, developing our system, our habits, things like that. So we can’t get overly concerned with opponent to opponent every night because those games are going to come fast for this young team.
“And I don’t want them caught up in trying to…every team they face it’s like, ‘OK now, what do they do? What do they do?’ When we don’t even know what we do. I want to get us to a place where we really understand our system, our guys. We have a connection with each, and then we’ll face the team in the other uniform.”
It is a sound philosophy and one Knicks fans hope will at last produce a sustained playoff contender.