Sources: Nothing imminent, but in-season changes not ruled out for Knicks' David Fizdale or front office

Ian Begley

Ian Begley, SNY.tv Twitter | 

At some point during New York's 21-point loss to Cleveland, Knicks owner James Dolan spoke to team president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry about the state of the club. It's fair to assume he wasn't happy.

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The Knicks dropped to 2-8 with Sunday's loss -- the fourth time they've lost a game by at least 20 points.

Afterward, Mills and Perry addressed the media -- which is extremely rare.

 

Usually, the head coach talks to the media after the game. Mills and Perry said they wanted to express to fans their frustration with the club's 2-8 start.

They talked about a lack of consistency and a sense of urgency to get things turned around. Usually, when those words come from top executives it's a sign that a coach's job is on shaky ground.

But Mills and Perry showed support for Fizdale and said repeatedly that they all shouldered responsibility for the team's poor play.

"We still believe in our coaching staff. We believe in the plan Scott and I put together and the players that we assembled," Mills said. "But we also have to acknowledge that we haven't played at the level we expected to play at. ... We have to find a way to play complete games at the level that we expect our team to play at. That's a responsibility that we take collectively. But I also think that it's important for us to communicate to our fans that we're not happy where we are right now. And we're committed to making this better. We have to, as a group, come together and be more consistent in terms of how we play."

Perry noted that the team expects to show improvement over this next 10-game stretch, which begins Tuesday in Chicago and includes Thursday's home game against Kristaps Porzingis and the Mavs.

So if the Knicks stumble over the next ten games, could Fizdale or a member of the front office lose their jobs?

Multiple SNY sources familiar with the matter said as recently as Thursday that there was no indication that any major coaching or management change was imminent. But those sources stated that nothing had been ruled out with regard to an in-season front office or coaching change.

Sources also told SNY that high-ranking MSG officials -- those that would be part of the decision-making process to make changes to management or the coaching staff -- weren't thrilled after last Sunday's 113-92 home loss to the Sacramento Kings. That's understandable, given the result. But it's worth pointing out given the sense of urgency and general disappointment expressed by top Knicks decision makers on Sunday.

If any coaching/executive changes are made, it will be Mills' call, sources told SNY. As is the case with any major decisions in pro sports, the owner would sign off on any firings. But Mills will make decisions here without significant interference from Dolan. The only caveat is if Mills himself is fired. That would be Dolan's decision.

When you think about potential firings, it's worth noting that Mills, Perry and Fizdale all have multiple years on their deals. So Dolan, who has in the past addressed his executives during lopsided losses, as he did on Sunday, would have to pay out money on those deals if he chose to fire Mills, Perry or Fizdale.

Mills, per SNY sources, also has a double option in one of his years. So both Mills and the Knicks would have to agree to exercise the option. That arrangement is similar to what Phil Jackson -- who signed a five-year deal for $60 million in March 2014 and was fired in June 2017 -- had as president.

Mills said Sunday that Dolan still supports the group's vision.

"Jim still believes in the plan we put together. But he's passionate as we are about this. He would want us to have better results on the floor as well," Mills said. "But I think Jim is a fan and believes in what we're doing. But he has the same kind of expectations that we have. This is really about how we feel about what we should be doing, what we should be delivering as a group. We all take responsibility for that."

Mills and Perry referenced a lack of consistency several times in their impromptu press conference.

"We have patience. We believe in coach and we believe in the group that we put together. But we also know -- as Scott and I both have said a number of times -- we need to find a way to have a consistent level of effort and execution that has to pull itself together," Mills said. "It's not good enough for us to play well for two quarters and then play poorly for two other quarters. What we have to do is find a way to play consistent basketball. And we believe in this group and we believe they're capable of doing it. We just have to find a way to get them there."

Fizdale accepted full responsibility for the team's inconsistent play and said Sunday's events didn't give him a greater sense of urgency to get things turned around.

"I'm not cruising through this thing acting like I got a bunch of time to get a team together," he said. "Every day I have urgency about this team, about how I coach them, about getting them better, about building consistent habits."

Marcus Morris said last week that the team's struggles were not Fizdale's fault. He reiterated that on Sunday.

"Who likes losing?" Morris said. "It's always going to be a sense of urgency when you're losing. Who likes losing? And they're right. We need to win, you know? We've got great players, we've got great chemistry, we've got great guys on this team, we've got 'win' guys. If I was front office, I'd be upset, too. We need to win. And our coaches do a good job, man. We've just got to be better."

The Knicks didn't attract the top free agents on their wish list -- a pairing of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving or Kawhi Leonard -- and instead spent $70 million on short-term deals with several veterans and a three-year deal for Julius Randle.

Given the money spent in the offseason, high-ranking decision-makers at Madison Square Garden entered the season with heightened expectations. No one thought that the team was ready to compete for a top spot in the Eastern Conference, but the expectation was that the group would be competitive.

They have been competitive for stretches this season, but they've often fallen short of that standard, as they did on Sunday. Fizdale pointed out, after the loss to the Cavs, that the team is just two games out of a playoff spot. But the Knicks certainly didn't look like a playoff team on Sunday.

If they continue to play the way they did against Cleveland, it's going to cost someone their job.

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