What does it mean exactly for a franchise to develop culture? It’s not an easy question to answer but it’s definitely something the Knicks are trying to develop this season under Coach Fizdale’s leadership.
We all know the Knicks of previous years had a toxic environment around them, from the front office down to the locker room. This season has brought more of the same as far as wins and losses go, but it feels different than other years. There isn’t that sense of doom and gloom over the franchise and the young players and vets seem to truly enjoy playing for one another and David Fizdale.
Let’s start off by evaluating the front office. They haven’t really done anything or made any moves that get you excited. But even better than the moves they haven’t made yet, they have not made any boneheaded decisions that could cripple the franchise moving forward. The Knicks own their drafts picks in multiple, consecutive years. Scott Perry and Steve Mills have formed a nice tandem and the line of communication seems to be open and honest with Coach Fizdale.
They’ve brought in a group of former lottery picks trying to prove themselves (Mudiay, Burke, Hezonja, Vonleh), mixed them in with a nice young core (Trier, Knox, Mitch, Dotson, Frank, Kornet), as well as veterans (Kanter, THJ, Lee, Thomas). To this point, all of these guys have meshed really well together and all reports out of the locker room suggest they really enjoy themselves as a team and enjoy playing with one another. It wouldn’t have been shocking to hear reports stating the contrary, as it’s tough to please so many players on ‘prove it’ deals who are playing for their next checks. That’s a testament to not only those players but to the front office for bringing in the right kind of guys, and David Fizdale for finding a nice balance between them all.
One very popular topic that Knicks twitter seems to love is the discussion of Fizdale handing out DNPs to players and if they make sense and if they really help the player out when they play again. This roster has a lot of players that need minutes and it’s impossible to please them all. Naturally, there are going to be players that don’t play every night and Fizdale has rotated who he chooses to play. Players with multiple DNPs this year include Hezonja, Burke, Frank, Lee, Thomas, and Dotson mostly. The normal expectation would be that these players lose confidence after being benched, but that hasn’t been the case. Most, if not all of these players have enjoyed solid games and stretches after their benchings.
Whether or not the benching was the reason for their success is another discussion of its own. However, Fizdale believes in giving guys a break that have been struggling and they all know he’s going to call their number again soon. Most recently, after the win against the Lakers in which Mario Hezonja played great off the bench, he addressed his own benching and how he felt. When speaking to Rebecca Harlow, he said it wasn’t difficult to come off the bench and contribute even though he hadn’t been playing recently, and that him and Coach Fizdale were like ‘best friends’ at practice, hugging and having no issue that he had been benched. This is a sign of true culture developing, a guy like Hezonja who is on a one year deal and had chosen the Knicks in free agency, not having an issue not playing and staying ready by practicing hard.
While discussing the culture of the team, we cannot forget about Courtney Lee and Lance Thomas. These guys have been true professionals throughout the season, despite limited roles and little playing time. Despite the lack of time on the court, they have both accepted their mentor roles for the young players. You constantly see Courtney Lee as the first guy off the bench celebrating and high-fiving teammates during timeouts. Seeing your vets this excited and willing to mentor the young guys just shows how good the line of communication is between the vets and Coach Fizdale, as well as with the front office. They knew coming into the season that this year would be about development and have embraced their roles.
Regardless of what happens in the offseason, the Knicks have finally set themselves up for the future. With a nice group of young players and a healthy Kristaps Porzingis coming back, there is a foundation there that can be built upon over time. Having a coach that the players like playing for and respect is a big deal. Players around the league talk amongst themselves and seem to want Fizdale to succeed in his time in New York. He’s been in the league for many years and is a guy that many players would like to play for.
At the end of the day, there is a long road ahead for the Knicks to vault themselves into true contenders. The pieces are in place to build something great over the next few years and hopefully the franchise continues in this upward trend. No more trading draft picks for old veterans and giving up on young guys too early, only for them to flourish with another franchise. We are finally developing our young players and you’d be hard pressed to find teams, if any, that did as well as the Knicks did this previous draft.
We have to stay optimistic that the new way the Knicks operate is here to stay. We’ve all been burned before and disappointed in the franchise, now’s the time for us to be proud of the direction we are headed and make Madison Square Garden an attractive destination for anyone that wants to come to New York.