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May 25, 2019

Fizdale’s Pain: Team concept goes out the window for Knicks when bulk of roster is going to be playing elsewhere next season

March 13, 2019

The Knicks have been consistently awful at most everything, but one element stands out as their king of putrid – ball movement.

Even when hopes were much higher in mid-November, the Knicks were dead-last in the NBA in assists and David Fizdale said that “makes me want to yack, to be honest with you.” Four months later, the Knicks remain in the basement of assists per game at 19.8 and Fizdale blamed the roster composition.

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More specifically, he pointed out that nine players can be free agents after the season.

“When you’re dealing with guys fighting for their contractual life, you’re always going to have an element of where a guy can be more focused on trying to get his,” Fizdale said Saturday before his Knicks (13-53) totaled 16 assists in a 102-94 loss the Kings. “Not that we’ve had a lot of that, but it’s just a natural thing when you’re fighting for your life.”

Fizdale was careful not use the word ‘selfish’ but that was the implication. Whether intended or not, it was also a defense of himself after being dealt a makeshift roster built as a stopgap. Team president Steve Mills collected expiring deals to have enough cap space to chase Kevin Durant and another star free agent this summer.

David Fizdale doesn’t want to label his players as ‘selfish’ but he knows some of his guys are playing for NBA survival. (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

So the losing was expected from Fizdale’s squad, although certainly not on this torrential level. What’s been more damaging to Fizdale’s performance has been complete lack of identity, connectivity or consistent style of play.

As one assistant coach told the Daily News earlier this season, “I don’t understand what they’re trying to do. When I watch Atlanta, they’re bad, too, but I can see what they’re trying to get to, the way they’re trying to play and who is part of the future. Not the Knicks.”

Fizdale indicated Saturday that the glut of expiring contracts has made it difficult to establish a team concept.

“I just know that the human condition creeps in … this is your job and your livelihood a lot of times is based on your statistics and how well you’re playing,” Fizdale said. “Like I’ve always told them, although we’ve gone through a tough season, it’s not necessarily that you’re losing games. It’s how you lose games that’s going to be important.

“People want to see you look like a team. I want to see you look like a team. They understand that and they want to look like a team.”

With the exception of Frank Ntilikina – who remains injured and whose future with the Knicks has long been in doubt – the team is almost entirely comprised of shoot-first guards and forwards. That includes expiring contracts like Emmanuel Mudiay and Allonzo Trier (team option for next season).

Knicks guard Emmanuel Mudiay can't get past the Kings in a matinee loss on Saturday.
Knicks guard Emmanuel Mudiay can’t get past the Kings in a matinee loss on Saturday. (Julie Jacobson / AP)

“No doubt about it. That definitely creeps in,” Fizdale said. “But I don’t think it’s necessarily like, ‘Well I’m just going to get mine.’ I think it’s like, when things get tight, a team really gets into us, I think it’s more of guys saying, ‘I’m capable of doing this and I’m going to show it.’ A lot of times that gets us to where we start holding the ball and taking tough shots.”

Mudiay, 23, agreed there was an issue while also carefully avoiding the word ‘selfish.’ He added that it was addressed by the coaches.

“I think it’s not more in a selfish way but more in a survival way,” he said. “But at times, I think we can get that thought process. But I think our agendas is still trying to get the best out of each other. So yes, it’s something that probably people be thinking about.

“We talked about that. It ain’t no secret. It’s out in the open. We got it out. And it’s just something we got to be better with.”

Of course, correcting selfish play with 16 games left in a lost season is pointless – especially in the players who won’t be with the Knicks after April. But for everybody, including Fizdale, it’s practice. This whole season was a giant punt to the summer. Unfortunately for ticket buyers, there are no refunds.

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“For us and for me, it’s a great experience to have to navigate and have to try to weave it together and get guys to understand the importance of team and things like that,” he said. “So I’m taking it as an opportunity for myself.”

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