NEW YORK -- Several NBA teams with head-coaching vacancies pursued David Fizdale. So why did he choose the New York Knicks?
Fizdale said on Tuesday that he couldn't pass up the opportunity to try to build a sustained winner in New York.
"It's the Knicks. What are we talking about?" Fizdale said with a smile when reflecting on his decision to join the club. "To have an opportunity to coach for this franchise [and] to be a part of a rebuild that gets this place back to long-term winning, I couldn't pass that up. I just felt like I don't want to look back on my life and say I didn't take this chance.
"I don't know how it's going to turn out; I just know that I want to get to work," Fizdale added. "I have a lot of faith and confidence in my work ethic and my openness to learning and growing and taking [management's] support, and hopefully we can build this thing to where it should be."
Fizdale is the 29th head coach in franchise history and the Knicks' ninth full-time head coach since the 2002-03 season. Team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry hope that Fizdale can help bring stability and sustained success for a team that has won just one playoff series in 18 years.
The club interviewed 11 candidates for the coaching vacancy that was created when Jeff Hornacek was fired. Mills said Fizdale checked a number of important boxes during the process.
"We looked at his commitment to development, we looked at his personal integrity and we looked at his ability to communicate and partner with us," Mills said of Fizdale. "... It's important for us to work as a team and for us to grow together."
Fizdale was previously a head coach with the Memphis Grizzlies.
He had a 43-39 record in his first season in 2016-17, leading the Grizzlies into the playoffs before losing in six games to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference playoffs. Memphis fired him amid an eight-game losing streak in November.
Beyond the losing, Fizdale's poor relationship with All-Star center Marc Gasol played a significant role in his dismissal. Fizdale benched Gasol in the fourth quarter of a loss to the Brooklyn Nets the night before Fizdale was fired. Gasol voiced his displeasure with the move after the loss.
Mills said he discussed Fizdale's relationship with Gasol during the interview process. The team president was encouraged that Fizdale owned the role he played in the relationship's deterioration. Fizdale said he has reflected on the issues between him and Gasol and holds himself accountable.
"It's my responsibility as a coach to get players to buy in and really to get them to collaborate and come together. And just for whatever reason we bumped heads on some things," he said. ".... Hopefully I really grew from that and I can apply it to this situation."
Fizdale added that he may have been too aggressive in trying to push to change everything in Memphis immediately. He believes this opportunity in New York is different because the club is trying to establish an identity; Memphis had already established a culture when Fizdale arrived.
"Coming here, really with a clean slate, to build something special, I'm really embracing that opportunity and that challenge," he said.
Before his stint in Memphis, Fizdale was an integral part of two championships as a member of Erik Spoelstra's coaching staff with the Miami Heat, where he spent eight years as an assistant coach. Fizdale built a reputation for his ability to connect and communicate with players, as well as his strong teaching and tactical ability. He has strong relationships with several players from his Heat tenure, including LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Regarding his current roster, Fizdale described Kristaps Porzingis as a player who embodies the future of the NBA and has the qualities for a megastar. He confirmed that he plans to travel to Porzingis' home country of Latvia to meet with the 22-year-old.
"He's the future of the NBA," Fizdale said. "Look around at these teams that are still playing right now and they've all got guys that are super long, super athletic, super skilled, super tough-minded, incredible workers and that is what he embodies. Obviously I don't know him personally yet but I did my background [research]. He fits all the qualities of a megastar and a guy who can really propel a franchise forward to high places."
Porzingis is in Latvia rehabbing his ACL injury and is expected to be sidelined until at least December. He is eligible for a five-year, $157 million extension this summer.
Fizdale will be the third full-time head coach Porzingis has played for in his four-year career. The franchise is hopeful that Fizdale will have more staying power than Porzingis' previous coaches.
Mills believes there will be more stability going forward because he and Perry are committed to avoiding the shortcuts they've taken in the past. He reiterated that owner James Dolan is on board with taking a patient approach to team-building.
"I think we've seen how things can go wrong. And I've seen a lot of mistakes that have taken place and maybe not the right patience in terms of trying to build things the right way," Mills said. ".... Jim has given us the room to try to do it differently."