If there was one play that could describe the impact David Fizdale has had on the New York Knicks so far, it would be Brooklyn’s final possession in their Big Apple clash on Oct. 19 at Barclays Center.
In a tie game in the final 10 seconds, Brooklyn’s Caris LeVert faced up against former Michigan teammate Tim Hardaway Jr. with a chance to seal the win with a bucket. LeVert started dribbling at the top of the key against Hardaway, who angled to prevent LeVert from going right.
LeVert dribbled left and then crossed over right, forcing Hardaway backward. Using his left hand to keep distance, LeVert scored on a difficult double-pump floater off the glass for the winning bucket with one second left. The Nets beat the Knicks that night, 107-105. And Fizdale lost his first game to his team’s rival but gained the confidence of his locker room, especially Hardaway.
Hardaway is considered a scorer, not a defender. And it would have been easy for Fizdale to assign Frank Ntilikina or a better defender on LeVert, who already had scored 26 points. Fizdale refused any options.
“So [Hardaway] was really trying to win that battle and I commend him for that, and that’s why there was no way I was taking him off that kid on the last possession,” Fizdale said. “I’m trying to make Timmy into a complete basketball player. He needed to go through that and take that challenge. And hey, the fact the kid scored but he learned from it and he knows I believe in him as a defender now.”
After the game, Hardaway, the Knicks’ most talented player with Kristaps Porzingis still sidelined following February knee surgery, took responsibility for allowing the winning basket and missing 15 of 25 shots.
“I thought it showed great leadership on his part to own the last possession defensively and on how many shots he took,” Fizdale said. “I really didn’t have a problem with his shot attempts. Brooklyn was doing a good job against us defensively. We started the game slow. Timmy is our perimeter offensive weapon. I know what it was. He and that kid went to college together and were going at it.”
This year is serving as an educational process for the Knicks. Fizdale knows this roster is going to be reshaped dramatically in the coming years. Hardaway is the lone established player other than Porzingis who may be part of the long-term future.
New York has drafted Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, and project center Mitchell Robinson, traded for Emmanuel Mudiay, signed castoff Noah Vonleh, andis giving chances to non-drafted players such as Allonzo Trier and Damyean Dotson.
They’ll determine who has the fortitude and talent to stick around.
So while he desperately wanted to beat Brooklyn, Fizdale wanted to show his faith in Hardaway more. “I want you guys to look at it like this. There was a day I played,” the 44-year-old Fizdale said. “If I was in a game playing against a high school teammate — for him, his college teammate — and we’ve been doing tit for tat and the last play of the game the coach says, ‘Hey, I’m going to put him on him.’ I might lose Timmy. That would crush him. No. This is a development year. This is part of Timmy’s development and he’s got to take that challenge. I can’t hide him. He needs to dig in and get that stop. He didn’t get it but he knows I believe he can, and we’re going to keep working at it and it was just a personnel breakdown.”
“He knew that kid [LeVert] wanted to go right and he let him get right. All right. We’ll fix that issue and next time we’ll get the stop. That’s what it’s about. It’s not about me trying to manipulate a situation to hopefully win the game. The areas that I’m trying to get these guys to be better at when it comes up in a game, I’ve got to let them go through that. You can’t hide them from it.”
The Knicks entered Friday with one win. They are expected to struggle to win 20 if Porzingis sits out the entire season. So this season is all about developing habits, gaining confidence, and mastering Fizdale’s culture.
“We lost the game but the way Timmy handled the whole thing, came out of that, stepped in front and owning it in the press and the fact he knows I’ve got great faith in him — that’s much more important to me in the long run,” Fizdale said. “Close-game situations are going to be good for us because we haven’t been through this stuff together. Win or lose, we can learn a lot from everything.”
Fizdale’s team fought the Celtics to the final seconds despite considerably less talent and journeymen such as Trey Burke and Lance Thomas playing major roles. Fizdale said every game will be a lesson, every back-to-back a challenge, and he relishes the opportunity to teach.
“Welcome to the league. It does not wait on you,” he said. “It does not feel sorry for you. You’ve got to get over things quickly. You have to learn quickly. And you’ve got to take care of your body. You’ve got to get to bed. Every day is an education for them. A lot of stuff they’ve never gone through or seen before. The back-to-back with Boston coming in [after Brooklyn] is an education.”
LET’S MAKE A DEAL
Minnesota wants big haul for Butler
The Rockets have pushed all their chips to the table and reportedly offered four first-round picks for Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler. The question is whether Houston is the only possible destination for the disgruntled All-Star forward, who has requested a trade from the Timberwolves and is in the final year of his contract. Butler listed the Nets, Knicks, Clippers, and Heat as his choice destinations.
But the Nets, Knicks, and Clippers aren’t going to sacrifice primary assets for the sake of signing Butler long term. They have their eyes fixed on players such as Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant, who will be free agents next summer. The Heat have been the team that has negotiated more vigorously with the Timberwolves, but talks have cooled off because of Minnesota’s demands. The Wolves want to start any trade with swingman Josh Richardson and potentially two more players and a draft pick.
Miami isn’t an Eastern Conference title contender. Perhaps the presence of Butler would help, if teamed up with point guard Goran Dragic and center Hassan Whiteside.
“I definitely think he will get traded,” TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal said. “I think the conversation between the general manager [Tom Thibodeau] is at a point where they can’t come to an agreement. [Charles Barkley] stated this the other night — if [Butler] wants the max [contract from Minnesota], they’re not going to give him the max. They’re thinking about the younger guys. Is he worth the max? He’s worth a lot. I don’t know if he’s worth the max. I think their time is done there.”
Said TNT analyst Kenny Smith: “I probably wouldn’t include Dragic and I probably wouldn’t put Whiteside in that trade, either. I would want a guy who could run to the rim and defend and play 25-30 minutes. Those three guys together [Butler, Dragic, Whiteside] could be a Denver-type team in the East.”
“Jimmy Butler is a good player,” TNT’s Barkley said. “The key is I’m not giving guys the max if we ain’t gonna be contenders. I just don’t believe in that. I’m not paying a guy $30 million a year and we’re the sixth seed, seventh seed. Listen, no disrespect. I like these players, they’re all good players, but I’m not giving a guy $30 million a year for us to lose in the first round of the playoffs.”
The Timberwolves were off to a 2-3 start before Friday’s game with the Bucks. The Butler effect on teammates Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins – teammates who have been the focus of Butler’s ire and disappointment — is apparent. Towns is averaging five fewer points than last season, and Wiggins is averaging less than 16 points per game. He averaged nearly 24 in 2016-17, the season before Butler arrived in Minnesota via a trade with Chicago.
NEW COACH, NICE FIT
Raptors playing well for Nurse
The Raptors have gotten off to an undefeated start, thanks partly to the presence of Kawhi Leonard, who appears 100 percent healthy after missing 73 games last season with a quadriceps injury. But credit should go to new coach Nick Nurse, who entered this season as a relative NBA coaching unknown, a career assistant who was tasked with one of the more demanding jobs in the NBA — trying to the push the Raptors to an elite level with a retooled roster.
Nurse has coached in the NBA G League, in England, at a Division 1 school and Division 2 school, and in the USBL before joining Dwane Casey’s Raptors staff in 2013.
“It’s really good walking home after practice,” Nurse said of his anonymity. “I walk home sometimes and it’s really good to have that. I think it probably helps a little. It’s not so much a huge scientific formula everybody is trying to figure out. They got the films. They got the scouts and they got the coaches pouring over that stuff pretty quickly.”
Nurse said that he hasn’t unleashed all of his game plans, tactics, and styles yet. That will be a gradual process. The Raptors are eighth in the NBA in scoring, second (to New Orleans) in scoring differential, fifth in field goal percentage, and seventh in points allowed. A major criticism of Casey is that his teams weren’t as efficient offensively in the playoffs. He always put an emphasis on defense, but the Raptors suffered when they faced capable defenses in the postseason.
“I’m hoping there are some little things here and there like [after-timeout plays] and special situations and end of games, and I’ve held back on a lot of that stuff as well just because it’s not the time to bring it to our guys because I’m trying to get them from point to point right now,” Nurse said. “I think you’ll see some things change and go a little bit more as we go here. It’s not like we’re doing something totally, stylistically out of whack.
As foes, Morris twins stay close
There is something to this whole twins thing for the Morris brothers. Markieff turns in a career night in helping the Wizards nab their first win. He hits five 3-pointers and scores 28 points with nine rebounds in an overtime win against Portland. Three days later, Marcus scores 21 points and hits four 3-pointers in the Celtics’ 101-95 win over the Thunder.
Both will be free agents next summer and each signed on with noted agent Rich Paul to help them get lucrative contracts. Considering the Celtics’ salary issues in the coming years, including having to re-sign Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown to extensions, Marcus is likely headed elsewhere next summer.
“Coming off the [expletive] contract I got, I definitely want to get paid,” Marcus said. “We all know that, especially for the work I put in the last few years.”
Marcus and Markieff are a little edgy about their contracts because they agreed to a combined four-year, $52 million deal (with Marcus essentially getting about $22 million of that) hoping they would remain together with the Suns.
It was considered a hometown discount and they claimed they were told by then-general manager Ryan McDonough that the reduced contract would help the Suns pursue other free agents and keep them in Phoenix.
Marcus was traded to Detroit six months later and Markieff asked out of Phoenix and was shipped to Washington. Marcus is making $5.3 million and is the 203rd highest-paid player in the NBA, according to HoopsHype. There is no bitterness with Marcus. He said he’s glad he’s part of an organization that can win a championship.
“At this point we’re blessed given the fact of where we came from,” he said. “Guys make mistakes in the league and you move past it. You can’t dwell on yesterday. That’s how we look at it. We’re taking care of our families, we’re living a great life. We know that this time around [as free agents] it’s going to be a lot different. So at the same time, we definitely don’t dwell on it.
“We still pay attention to see what they got going on in Phoenix. I think they’re doing a great job over there with the hiring of [former Sun and Cavalier] James Jones and I think it’s going to be really good for the team.”
The Morris brothers are extremely close. The question is will they try to enter free agency as a package deal? Markieff is a power forward, Marcus a small forward. Marcus said Markieff is likely to re-sign with the Wizards.
“At this point, we’re kind of in two different positions because his team has his [Larry] Bird rights and they’d love to keep him over there, so I can definitely see him re-signing without even going [into free agency],” Marcus said. “We haven’t really talked about it. We’d love to play on the same team and I would love to play with my brother again. It’s a lifelong dream, but at the same time it’s a business and I’m not taking no more [salary] shortcuts. If that’s the case then we won’t be playing on the same team. But you never know.”
The Lakers-Rockets fight on Oct. 20 reignited the Chris Paul-Rajon Rondo feud that has lasted nearly a decade. Rondo was suspended three games for allegedly spitting on Paul during the altercation and then took a punch at Paul when Paul stuck a finger in Rondo’s face. It all goes back to 2009 when the Celtics were pondering whether to re-sign Rondo to an extension of his rookie contract or trade the emerging point guard. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge considered trading Rondo for Paul, then with the Hornets and one of the league’s top guards. Ainge wanted to make the deal but was unsure Paul, who was a free agent after the 2011-12 season, would commit to the Celtics long term. A few hours before Rondo signed a five-year, $55 million extension, the Celtics played the Hornets and the two nearly got into a fight during the game. After the game, Rondo pursued Paul on the floor and both had to be restrained before Paul got into an exchange with Celtics assistant coach Tom Thibodeau. Paul told the Globe back then that Rondo was a “lucky guy” for being able to play with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen, implying that a primary reason for his success was having talented teammates. Rondo took those comments personally and has viewed Paul as a rival ever since. Paul, who is president of the players’ union, has been viewed as one of the league’s good guys with a pristine image. Rondo told ESPN this past week that Paul is a “bad teammate” and lamented the media for praising him because of his clean image. Rondo, in his 13th NBA season and with his fifth NBA team, has had to struggle to remain in the league, partly because of his image . . . Former King Philip Regional (Wrentham) product Jake Layman is a starter for the Trail Blazers. Layman, from the University of Maryland, is starting at small forward for a stretch in the opening period before giving way to Evan Turner and Maurice Harkless. Layman played in 35 games in each of his first two NBA seasons, mostly as a little-used reserve. He was a second-round pick in 2016 and has improved over the past few years. Because the Blazers were in salary-cap purgatory and unable to bring in free agents this past offseason, Layman is getting an opportunity for more playing time.
The New Orleans Pelicans have acquired a G League team and will place the club in Birmingham, Ala., the 29th NBA team to have a G League team, leaving the Blazers as the lone club without an affiliate. How about the Blazers purchase a G League team and place it in nearby Seattle?
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.