“It’s a little rough right now,” Jesús told me. It was halftime at Madison Square Garden and the New York Knicks were losing 66-60 to the Indiana Pacers. It could have been any other Knicks game, but for one detail: David Fizdale wasn’t on the Knicks bench.
The second-year head coach was gone. He was fired after a 4-18 start. The New York Knicks replaced him with interim head coach Mike Miller.
“They’re in rebuilding mode, they should have given him a chance,” said Jesús, a Long Island resident. “Mills has got to go. Everyone else has got to go.”
Many Knicks fans in the second-level concourse sounded just like Jesús: unhappy.
“Good. They needed it,” said Nick from Queens. When he was asked what he thought about changes to the Knicks’ coaching staff.
However, when asked about the state the team. “Bad right now,” he said.
Linda, from New Jersey, was wearing a black and orange Knicks wool hat and a sweatshirt. She and her boyfriend, Ted, had heard about Fizdale’s firing on the radio on their way to the game.
“We don’t even know who’s coaching right now,” she said.
I then asked Ted about Fizdale’s departure.
“I think he’s taking the fall for the team,” he said. “The team’s just bad. They’re throwing him under the bus.”
Against the Pacers, the Knicks, down by six points at halftime, had shown signs of life. R.J. Barrett seemed determined to get the ball to the hoop; he’d brought the crowd to its feet with a first-quarter driving dunk. Marcus Morris Sr. and Julius Randle both looked strong; they would finish with 25 and 16 points, respectively. Whatever Mike Miller was doing, it was working.
But Ted wasn’t Fizdale’s only defender.
“I don’t think it was professional,” said Steve, a Suffolk County resident. “You gotta give Fiz a little bit of time. We go through so many coaches.”
Indeed, the Knicks have had five coaches since firing Mike Woodson at the end of the 2014 season. Woodson’s record with the Knicks was 109-79. Derek Fisher, his successor, put together a 40-96 record over a season and a half before he was fired. Kurt Rambis, Fisher’s interim replacement, went 9-19. He was followed by Jeff Hornacek (60-104), who gave way to Fizdale (21-83). Now Fizdale’s given way to Mike Miller.
Whether the coaches are to blame for the Knicks’ six-year streak of losing seasons is a different question. However, it’s undebatable that the Knicks go through a lot of coaches. Even if after a while, they all start to seem the same.
Steve wants to see Patrick Ewing coach the team. “Keep it in the New York roots,” he said. Then I asked what he thought of the Knicks this year.“ They suck.”
Krystal, his partner, slapped him playfully. “They don’t suck!” she said. “Don’t say that!”
Meanwhile, Matthew, another Long Islander, said it was “about time” for Fizdale to go. But he wasn’t sure he liked where things were going: “Depends on who takes over next.”
He’d like to see Mark Jackson coach the Knicks, he said. He also likes the idea of Jason Kidd.
On the whole, he was optimistic. “Lots of room for improvement,” he said, “but I like the young core that we have a lot.”
Some fans weren’t so forgiving. Tierre, from Queens, said that Miller, as interim coach, wouldn’t have time to make major changes.
“What’s an interim coach going to do during the regular season?” he asked.
But he saved his harshest words for a different target.
“Dolan should sell the team to someone else. The Knicks, the Rangers, and The Garden.”
Meanwhile, William, from Chicago, said he’d been a Knicks fan since watching Patrick Ewing. “They’re trying to do a changing of the guard,” he said. “Honestly, I feel like Fizdale was just a band-aid. They couldn’t have expected to win with the pieces they put around him.”
They couldn’t indeed. Down 104-98, the Knicks stormed back as the clock ticked down. A Mitchell Robinson dunk made it 104-100; a Morris Sr. jumper cut the deficit to 104-102. Then Julius Randle was fouled on a layup attempt with 0.1 seconds left.
As the crowd went silent — “you can hear a pin drop,” said the fan next to me — Randle made his first free throw. He breathed deeply. Then his second shot went off the back rim, and the Pacers won.
Tobias Haegre follows the Knicks closely back home in Wuppertal, Germany. However, this was his first game in-person. When I asked him what he thought of the New York Knicks season, he took a long time to respond.
“Hard to answer,” he said. Then he corrected himself. “Not good.”