Knicks are embracing a simple approach in trying to escape several seasons of malaise
Professional basketball’s best players have spread to the coasts in the NBA with Brooklyn, Boston, Miami, Golden State, Philadelphia, the Lakers and the Clippers establishing themselves as primo destinations, the types of places where great players go to win championships.
But in the migration, the New York Knicks have been left behind, presumably to meander through the season on their way to a seventh consecutive one without a winning record or a trip to the playoffs.
Since the 2013 playoffs, when the Knicks were bounced in the first round, they have lost 355 times, more than anyone else in the NBA and 100 times more than one-third of the teams.
What do they have to show for it?
Yet another rebuild with yet another set of young players, with former Laker Julius Randle in the middle of it.
The newest version of one of the NBA’s tentpole franchises will be on the Staples Center court Tuesday when they battle the Western Conference-leading Lakers. It should give the Knicks’ top people two major reminders.
Lakers’ LeBron James earned his second Western Conference player of the week honor of the season for the week of Dec. 30 (his birthday) through Jan. 5.
One, turning things around isn’t impossible. The second-most losses since the start of the 2013-14 season belong to the Lakers.
Two, however, is that the Lakers are still regarded well enough that all the losing and organizational turmoil didn’t stop LeBron James from joining them. And it didn’t keep Anthony Davis from forcing a trade to L.A. either.
Conversely, the Knicks’ last offseason was so underwhelming that the team issued a statement trying to extinguish fan frustrations less than 48 hours into its start.
Things have been predictably rocky this season.
A month before the Knicks fired coach David Fizdale, President Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry undercut him with an impromptu news conference after a bad loss to Cleveland, an unusual step, especially 10 games into the season.
“I was disappointed,” Clippers coach and former Knicks guard Doc Rivers said. “I thought he was in a tough spot. Some of the comments that were made ... like he didn’t stand a chance. I’ve been very fortunate as a coach, been lucky quiet honestly, where I’ve had the backing through thick or thin. I told David that. … That [news conference] was bad. I think we all know that. But it happened. It’s tough. Coaching is hard enough.”
Fizdale was popular with the players — a month removed from his ousting and several players still express admiration and love for him — but his replacement has undoubtedly gotten better results.
Mike Miller, in his first NBA coaching gig after stops everywhere from the G-League to Eastern Illinois University, has earned generally positive reviews from observers, despite lacking the kind of dynamic personality that typically resonates in New York.
In a search for consistency — well, a different kind of consistency than losing — Miller has deconstructed the game by beginning with two or three good possessions, then five, then a quarter of the game, then a half and so on.
“It’s really a simple approach to it,” he said.
The Knicks are 6-8 under Miller, with players adapting quickly to the change, although some Knicks credit Fizdale for preparing them for a sudden change as he was on the way out.
“[Miller’s] real straightforward. Players like that; just get your work done,” forward Taj Gibson said. “He’s real serious, real sincere. But you can talk to him, you know what I’m saying? Stuff happens, but guys are maturing and guys are taking to him.”
And although 6-8 isn’t going to hang any banners, it’s also not going to embarrass anyone.
Marcus Morris, the Knicks leading scorer, could be on the way out by the trade deadline in the kind of move that would make victories and defeats even tougher. This season’s top draft pick, RJ Barrett, has done well at times but has been inconsistent. The Knicks’ top pick in 2018, Kevin Knox, barely played Sunday against the Clippers.
“I’m just trying to show that we’re a resilient team, that we scrap ... just be that tough kind of New York team,” Barrett said.
And then there’s Randle, the former Lakers lottery pick, who has played really well since the coaching change. In the Knicks’ last 14 games, Randle is averaging 21.4 points, 10.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists. He’s under contract for three seasons after signing for more than $62 million in the summer when the Knicks missed on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
“You’ve got to go through highs and lows,” Randle said. “You’ve got to go through adversity to make you grow as a person.”
Adversity might not be as plentiful anywhere in the NBA as in New York. For now, with the Knicks back to building, the basics are clearly getting attention.
“The big thing we can control is what kind of effort, what kind of consistency are we playing with and are we playing to an identity,” Miller said. “That’s what we’re trying to control right now.”
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