New York Knicks: Steve Mills and Scott Perry deserve some blame

New York Knicks. Steve Mills, Scott Perry and former players. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Hospital for Special Surgery)
New York Knicks. Steve Mills, Scott Perry and former players. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Hospital for Special Surgery) /

Basketball is a game of halves. It’s not always about how you start, but how you finish. Sadly, the New York Knicks didn’t give David Fizdale the chance to finish out the first half in his second season.

The 2019-2020 New York Knicks often stumbled out of the gate and fell apart in crunch time. But it was their latest lopsided blowouts to the Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets at home that did Fiz in.

While Fiz is not entirely at fault, considering he inherited nine new players on his roster and early injuries that messed up rotations, it’s an indictment on the front office tandem of team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry along with owner James Dolan.

However, Fiz was set up to fail before he even took the job.

The “Plan B” 2019-2020 roster construction began with the “Zen Master” Phil Jackson and his coach Jeff Hornacek laying the foundation for the ousting of Kristaps Porzingis‘ time in New York, but it was Perry and Mills that gave the 7-foot-3 Latvian the final blow.

Fiz traveled to the European star’s home country to mend the broken fences by the previous regime, but it wasn’t enough. The brain trust of Perry and Mills traded “The Unicorn” along with Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee, and Trey Burke to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Dennis Smith Jr, DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Matthews, and two future first-round picks. While it was quickly portrayed that Porzingis was like a villain in a James Bond movie and the trade was heralded an immediate success because it opened two max contract spots for free agency.

We know how that turned out… Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and DeAndre Jordan (who served as a great mentor to second-round pick Mitchell Robinson) bailed to the Barclays Center to play for the Brooklyn Nets.

Let’s be honest, Charles Oakley getting the boot from the Garden after having some choice words with Dolan leading to his arrest was still in the back of free agent’s minds. Oakley, who still cherishes his days in a Knicks uniform, represents a time when the franchise was a juggernaut in the Eastern Conference and had the Garden always rocking throughout the 1990s. Sadly there weren’t any championships to show for it, but the Knicks were a great team then… and then the Dolan family purchased the team in 1997.

Since then, the fanbase has been treated to eight playoff appearances, with the last coming in the 2012-2013 season when the Knicks lost in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and including Fizdale, 13 different head coaches, or interim head coaches in 23 years.

No wonder why Kevin Durant said, “The Knicks aren’t cool,” on New York radio station Hot 97.

Before free agency, the Knicks took RJ Barrett, the 6-foot-7 swingman out of Duke University, with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft because of their putrid 17-65 2018-2019 campaign. They also acquired Ignas Brazdeikis from the Sacramento Kings on draft night.

No one was quick to second guess Mills and Perry after drafting Kevin Knox, who averaged 12.8 ppg and 4.5 rebs, second-round steal Mitchell Robinson, who earned All-Rookie second-team honors and signing Allonzo Trier. Then free agency started, and everyone’s growth would soon be stunted.

With an already heavy forward roster, Mills and Perry inked a bevy of veteran forwards on one-year pacts except for Julius Randle, who they paid $73 million over three years, to join the fray. It made no sense then, and it makes even less sense now. The Knicks youth or core as some may call them have regressed, and I’ll repeat it. Their growth was stunted.

Knox and Trier have struggled to stick in Fizdale’s rotation because of veterans who have a higher price tag. Mitchell Robinson has drawn foul’s at an alarming rate. RJ Barrett is having too many responsibilities thrown his way this early on in his career, and the Knicks still have no clue if Dennis Smith Jr. or Frank Ntilikina is going to be the starting point guard.

Guys like Knox and Robinson are punished for mistakes on the court when veterans make the same mistake. I can understand the top brass would like to showcase the talents of the veterans on their roster so they can ship them to a playoff contender and acquire picks, prospects or salary relief, but this was not the right way to do it.

I would rather have seen the Knicks shell out less money on free agents, play the younger guys, and know that they will have a poor record and have the financial flexibility to take on poor contracts in exchange for future assets. Look at the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers and their asset pool over the last few years.

A roster full of rookies, second and third-year players along with established veterans seem like a recipe for disaster, and it has been especially when they are playing a majority of the minutes over the youth on a 4-16 team. Fizdale was in charge of starting the veterans, I get that, but there has to be front office pressure on him to continue playing them because there is no reason why the youngsters shouldn’t be playing.

The Knicks have played a quarter of their game this season and have proved they have no identity and after their last close call – a 113-104 loss to the Celtics at home in which the Knicks led by as much as nine points in the fourth quarter – are lacking a finisher or a guy that can take over to close out games.

My biggest critique on Fizdale was that he needed to make the Knicks a better free-throw shooting team. While it’s one of the essential elements of the game, the Knicks have lost at least five games at the free-throw line.

Per, the Knicks own the Association’s worst free-throw percentage with an abysmal 67.4 percent from the charity stripe. To make matters worse, the Knicks have lost nine games by 10 points or less.

It’s hard to play revisionist history here, but you take away five of those losses the Knicks are 9-11, and firing Fizdale wouldn’t have been on the radar.

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Sadly, Fizdale ends his time in New York with a 21-83 record. Fans and analysts have had enough!