David Fizdale has struggled to win games this year, but he’s succeeded in finagling former franchise greats to impart wisdom upon the team, so let’s explore whether the likes of Willis Reed and Patrick Ewing have had any tangible impact while forecasting who Fizdale should seek to wrangle next.
For those lucky few who have yet to figure it out, the Knicks are, quite literally, the worst team in the NBA, and they’ll likely remain at the very bottom of the standings once all is said and done this season. While most metrics only will serve as reminders of how horrific Fizdale’s first year has been, the team’s relationship with former players is one area where Fiz has helped the franchise show improvement.
No, James Dolan hasn’t made up with Charles Oakley yet, but the list of ex-Knicks that have taken some time to meet with the current players and dispense knowledge is lengthy and impressive. In addition to Reed and Ewing, Fizdale has brought in Walt Clyde Frazier, Bill Bradley, Clifford Ray, Rasheed Wallace, Jason Kidd, Bernard King, and John Starks.
Let’s look at the messages a few of those former Knicks tried to deliver to today’s team to determine whether anything got through, and later we’ll list some players Fizdale should consider inviting in the future.
Reed is the most recent invitee, with the Knicks legend and well-known hobbler out of tunnels having joined the team while they were practicing in Tarrytown ahead of a recent 111-93 loss to the Denver Nuggets.
Fizdale and Reed are text message buddies, according to the brigade of Knicks beat reporters, and Reed’s message to the team was as simple as one of those motivational posters that features a cat clinging to a tree branch and holding on for dear life: hang in there.
Willis Reed tells the Knicks to 'hang in'https://t.co/cQrwie6UYV— Chris Iseman (@ChrisIseman) March 21, 2019
Reed told the team that he had three different head coaches in his first three seasons, which maybe isn’t exactly the best message for Fizdale’s sake, but was meant to illustrate that if the players stick with the program and work hard, success will come.
Seeing as Reed is a center, it’s only natural that Fizdale is hoping his magic rubs off on Mitchell Robinson, and considering both Reed and Robinson hail from Louisiana, the Blockness Monster really has no choice but to wind up being as great as The Captain. And while Robinson didn’t know much about Reed prior to the start of this season, the 20-year-old big man has done his homework:
Mitchell Robinson on meeting Willis Reed:— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) March 22, 2019
“Coach told me a lot about him. Then I went back home, went on YouTube, seen a lot of things he did, little scrappy guy!
Only time will tell whether Reed’s insight might make Robinson reach new heights, but in the immediate aftermath of their meeting, Mitch had yet another monster showing at the Garden against the Nuggets, posting 16 points on 7-10 from the field, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks in less than 23 minutes of action.
He did this:
Mitchell Robinson (16p/10r) gets it done on both ends! #NewYorkForever— NBA (@NBA) March 23, 2019
: https://t.co/cb8TXyNer6 pic.twitter.com/FlbLNs1HgN
A lot has changed since Ewing surprised the Knicks in the locker room prior to the team’s preseason opener in Washington against the Wizards, but a number of notable names remain on the roster, including Robinson, Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox.
The Knicks walked into the locker room expecting a film session and instead were greeted by the Big Fella, according to Newsday’s Steve Popper. Fizdale, ever connected, says he’s known Ewing for around 15 years, and has a healthy respect for the current head coach of the Georgetown Hoyas.
“Unbelievable. Patrick came in and really talked to the guys about what a special moment they’re in to wear that jersey,” Fizdale said. “He’s the greatest Knick — you look at the numbers and his Hall of Fame stuff and All-Star Games. It was just an honor. It really was. And he really spoke to them on a level like a college coach. He didn’t even make it about himself, he made it about all of them together. What it means to be a Knick.”
The Knicks went out and defeated the Wizards that night, 124-121. Knox put up 13 points and 10 rebounds in 26 minutes, Ntilikina had 5 points, 2 assists and 1 steal while being a team best +7, and Robinson had 6 points, 7 rebounds and 1 block.
The following is a series of facts: Ewing, a basketball coach, gave the Knicks a pregame speech, and then the team went out and won an away game. Ewing is one of the greatest centers of all time, and now has two college seasons of head coaching experience under his surely enormous belt. Mitchell Robinson, the Knicks most promising young player, plays that same position.
Just something to think about while also thinking about how Reed said he had three coaches in his first three seasons.
Walt Clyde Frazier
Frazier is one of the best point guards to ever play the game. In game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals — the very same night Reed famously hobbled out of that tunnel — he put up 36 points, 19 assists and 7 rebounds.
He’s been brilliantly broadcasting Knicks games alongside Mike Breen for 20 years, yet for some reason it never felt like the team was properly drawing upon Frazier’s endless well of legendary, Knicks-specific knowledge and experience. In early October, Fizdale, Frazier and Steve Mills ate lunch in Tarrytown, and after chowing down, Frazier had a meet and greet with the team’s guards.
“Clyde came to the gym the other day and spoke to our guards,’’ Fizdale said, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post. “Steve invited him for lunch and I previously invited him to spend time together and watch film. I wanted to introduce him to all of them — the guards — to let them know he will be talking to them very soon.”
Maybe Fizdale meant “very soon” in a relative sense, because there don’t seem to be reports of subsequent sessions involving Frazier. Perhaps Fiz should invite the stylish superstar to practice before season’s end; Frazier can help Ntilikina work on his offense so the organization doesn’t prematurely trade the youngster.
Kidd’s lone campaign as a Knick — he turned 40 during the 2012-13 season — was the team’s finest in two decades. Kidd joined the Knicks during a shootaround in Phoenix earlier this month, and chopped it up with Dennis Smith Jr. and Emmanuel Mudiay, but not Ntilikina, whose groin hadn’t yet healed. Don’t worry, Ntilikina and Kidd “exchanged greetings,” according to the New York Post. The Knicks lost that night, 107-96, and Smith Jr. played pretty good while Mudiay struggled.
In November, Fizdale brought King in with Knox in mind, saying “no one can talk about scoring and preparing and having a game built for certain areas of the floor better than Bernard King,” per the New York Post.
King told Knox, who was just coming back from an ankle injury, to visualize himself performing well, and said to focus on finding his preferred spots on the floor when trying to score.
“He told me about certain spots on the floor that I like and said just get there, keep shooting, keep playing hard and eventually it will come,” Knox said.
Bradley, who in addition to playing for the Knicks is a former U.S. Senator, told the ‘Bockers in late October that Knicks tradition, voting, community service, and saving money are among the most important things. Solid advice.
“The guys were sitting on the edge of their seat, listening,” Fizdale said, per the New York Post. “I don’t know if it was because it was a Knick, or a senator in the room, but they were like, ‘Whoa, this is heavy.’
Finally, here’s a list of other former Knicks Fizdale should consider bringing in, and the expertise they could bestow upon today’s team:
Pablo Prigioni - The art of being a sneaky defender.
Eddy Curry - A cautionary tale.
Chris Dudley - The importance of practicing free throws, and he could tell the story of that time he tried to stand up to Shaq.
Cleanthony Early - Be careful leaving gentleman’s clubs at 4:30 am.
Mark Jackson - Actually, don’t invite him. He just seems a bit preachy.
Phil Jackson - Oh yeah, we tried that. Okay, no Jacksons.
Jared Jeffries - Don’t forget to set yourself up for a successful post-NBA career. In Jeffries’ case, a fishing show.
Chris Smith - Be nice to your family.
Kenny Walker - How to win a Dunk Contest.
Kurt Thomas - The ultimate big man role player.
Charlie Ward - The ultimate little guy role player.
Chris Childs - A tutorial on how to punch Kobe Bryant before Kobe even knows what’s coming.
Who else should come teach the Knicks a thing or two? Feel free to sound off in the comments.