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David Fizdale focused on foundation, not wins this season for Knicks

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This is the first of NBC’s NBA preview stories, with at least one a day appearing on these pages until Oct. 16, when the NBA season kicks off. We will look at teams and topics around the NBA throughout the series, starting with the Knicks.

Phil Jackson was once in this exact same spot, saying almost the exact same things.

When he was hired, the Zen Master talked about changing the culture of the New York Knicks. He talked about defense, about building slowly and laying a foundation that would last long beyond his tenure in New York. He promised sustained success.

Then he decided to shortcut all of that and go get Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Courtney Lee and try to win now with what was left of Carmelo Anthony’s career. (He did a lot of other things wrong, too, in the name of the triangle.) When that inevitably failed, the Knicks were back to square one and stuck with contracts that are still an anchor on the franchise today. If there has been one consistent thing from the Knicks for more than a decade now, it has been taking the quick fix.

For the Knicks, the 2018-19 season is about getting back to foundation building. This time patiently. No shortcuts. No skipping steps.

“Culture and accountability. I’ll be putting those words on walls in a lot of places” new coach David Fizdale said at his introductory press conference. “They’re very cliché in a lot of ways, but I’ve really learned through my experience that I’ve gotten to live a lot of these words and fail through these words and achieve great things with these words and I hope I’d be able to communicate that and share that with these group of men. It takes so much to win in this league and if one person is off in one way it crumbles.”

Fizdale — with Steve Mills and Scott Perry running the front office — have talked about culture, accountability, building slowly, laying a foundation that will last through Kristaps Porzingis’ tenure and beyond.

Those need to be more than words this season — which starts with patience and buy-in from owner James Dolan. Not a man exactly known for those things. Dolan is the reason for the constantly shifting tides and sense of paranoia that seems to pervade the organization. Fizdale, Mills, and Perry all said they had a commitment from Dolan to do this the right way this time. No step skipping. Dolan needs to stick with that, and those three need to manage their owner when he starts to read tabloid headlines about his team and gets an itch.

With this being Fizdale’s first season, those three should have room to operate for a while, which makes the 2018-19 Knicks season about Fizdale building a foundation — not about wins or making the playoffs this season. (It’s not impossible that happens in an East that gets a little shaky around those final few playoff slots, but decisions can’t be made with that as the goal.) It’s about not “skipping steps,” a phrase that came up repeatedly (almost to the point of annoyance) when Fizdale was introduced as the Knicks’ coach.

The first step? When asked at that press conference what the first thing he needed to establish, Fizdale didn’t hesitate: “Player relationships.” Weeks later, he backed that up by getting on a plane and flying to Latvia and meeting with Porzingis in Europe. A meeting that reportedly went well. Fizdale challenged him.

“The best way to describe him is he’s the future of the NBA,” Fizdale said. “Look around who’s playing (deep in the postseason). They all got guys super long, super athletic, super skilled, super tough-minded. He fits all of the qualities of a megastar and a guy who can really propel a franchise forward to high places.”

All true, but it will not help the Knicks on the court in the short term, Porzingis remains out following a torn ACL and his return date uncertain (my guess is we see him later in the season, but he could miss it all). In the short term, Fizdale needs to develop other players, starting with building the game of rookie Kevin Knox, who showed a lot of potential at Summer League.

Then Fizdale needs to work with and decide how good Frank Ntilikina really is (he did not impress in Las Vegas this summer). Is a change of scenery and a new coach what Mario Hezonja needed to get closer to his potential? Where does the talented but raw rookie Mitchell Robinson fit in?

None of those players mentioned above have even turned 24 yet — player development is going to be crucial for the Knicks. Not just this season, either, but critical if the Knicks are going to draw a big free agent next summer (big names will want to know the Knicks core is ready to take the next steps).

Next on the agenda, Fizdale has to make the defense respectable — and make playing hard on defense part of that new team culture. The last time the Knicks had a defense in the top half of the league it was 2012, and you were still listening to “Gangnam Style” and “Call Me Maybe.”

“I want to get up and down the court. I want to share the basketball. I want to attack the paint. But none of that will start without us being a great defensive team,” Fizdale said. “You know, we’re going to be a team that really plays a pressure, physical style of basketball. Get a lot of deflections, try to get a lot of steals, get into the open court, earn the right to go play a more free-flowing, attacking style of offense.”

That attacking offense will be more modern and positionless if Fizdale has his way.

“You hear him talk a lot about positionless basketball, not being afraid to try different combinations,” Mills said. “With where the game is going today, that’s a really appealing quality that he brings.”

Last season, the Knicks shot selection sucked — they were third worst in the league in percentage of shots either at the rim or from three. Expect that to change. Fizdale’s problems with Marc Gasol and the Grizzlies became trying to drag a veteran team into the modern age against its will (and not handling those relationships well enough), but with the Knicks he will not meet that resistance.

Does that mean what Knicks fans have begged for — more Porzingis at the five?

“Why limit it? Why put a ceiling on it?” Fizdale said. “I just see so many different ways to use him. Obviously, if you play him at some 5, it’s like that super-lineup you’re always seeing from different teams—I don’t even know how you match up with him. He can play some 4. If you have another speed guy at the 4, you might even be able to play positionless.”

It all sounds good, but getting that foundation in place this season will be a bumpy ride. Mistakes will come and players will have to learn from them. Wins will not be easy to come by, losses will pile up. This is New York, the pressure will come with those losses. Fizdale and the Knicks have to focus past all that on the long term — it’s not about this season. It’s about the foundation, it’s about the culture.

Install that right, get Porzingis back, land a free agent next summer, then the focus changes. But to get there, the Knicks have to learn the lessons of Phil Jackson — and so many before him — and can’t start skipping steps. That is the most significant culture change needed at Madison Square Garden.

Knicks miss first nine shots then fan hits half-courter for $10k (video)

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The Knicks missed their first nine shots of the season then called timeout.

That set the stage for a fan to show at least one person on New York’s side could shoot. The fan hit a half-court shot for $10,000.

Perhaps feeling the momentum, the Knicks came back for a 126-107 win over the Hawks.

Kobe Bryant dropped from film festival after backlash due to his 2003 rape charge

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Kobe Bryant has become acclaimed for his filmmaking, even winning an Oscar.

But his sustained prominence in basketball retirement, especially considering his new industry, has sparked questions about why he hasn’t been swept up by #MeToo. After all, Bryant admitted in 2004 to having sex with a woman who didn’t view the encounter as consensual the year prior. (That statement part of Bryant moving on and readily accepted by the public, which shows why a reckoning in our handling of sexual misconduct was so necessary.)

Bryant was selected to judge a film festival, but a petition emerged to prevent his participation. Apparently, 159 signatures were enough for the festival to change course.

Evan Real of The Hollywood Reporter:

Kobe Bryant has been removed from the Animation Is Film Festival jury following backlash stemming from a 2003 rape allegation. Though the former L.A. Lakers star was set to serve as a juror at the annual event this weekend in Hollywood, organizers announced on Wednesday that he will no longer participate.

On one hand, it’s not surprising the petition received just 159 signatures. Bryant remains highly popular and is beloved by many.

But this also shows the power of a relatively small number of voices speaking up.

 

Blake Griffin’s dunk attempt stuffed by Jarrett Allen. Again (video)

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Pistons star Blake Griffin learned his lesson after getting his dunk blocked by Nets center Jarrett Allen in the preseason. In the regular-season opener, Griffin went up even harder.

And Allen still stopped him!

Kevin Durant’s brother says Instagram comment wasn’t about star leaving Warriors this summer

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Rumors about Kevin Durant leaving the Warriors are intensifying. Even people within the Golden State organization are bracing themselves for him to depart in free agency next summer.

Not even the Warriors collecting their championship rings could stop the momentum.

In fact, last night’s celebration contributed to the noise.

Kevin’s brother, Tony, commented on Kevin’s Instagram post featuring the rings, “Filling the hand up before we get outta here!”

Rob Perez of The Action Network:

My best guess was “here” meant the Warriors’ arena in Oakland. This is their last season there before moving to a new arena in San Francisco Francisco.

Or maybe “here” meant in the NBA. Careers in the NBA are finite.

Another thought that crossed my mind: “Here” could have meant in this world. Lives, too, are finite.

The only clear part: Tony wants Kevin to win a handful of rings. The deadline is nebulous.

Of course, the loudest speculation was “here” meant playing for the Warriors and this being the last run. But Tony sharply denied that.

Perez:

If you want to be a conspiracy theorist, perhaps Tony meant leaving Golden State after this season but Kevin just instructed him to downplay it to quiet chatter. I suppose that’s possible, though it wouldn’t jibe with Kevin’s tell-the-truth-about-free-agency approach.

Occam’s Razor suggests taking Tony at his word, and that’s what I’ll do.