Wins and losses are no longer what drive David Fizdale. In his first season as New York Knicks coach, he’s learning to find victories in smaller things.
That philosophy was not easily arrived at for Fizdale. After eight years as an assistant coach with the Miami Heat that included seven playoff appearances, four trips to the Finals, and two NBA titles, Fizdale took over as Memphis Grizzlies head coach. In his first season with the Grizzlies, the team reached the playoffs but started the next season with a string of losses that cost Fizdale his job.
“All of us are bred as athletes your whole life to win at all costs, and when you don’t win, it’s death,” he said Wednesday morning after the Knicks' shootaround at the Wells Fargo Center. “That’s just how you’re bred. You’re hardwired that way.”
At the helm of the 9-23 Knicks, Fizdale is finding victory in the development of his young players. So when rookie Kevin Knox, who is averaging 19.4 points and 6.8 rebounds over the last five games, notches a double-double, or when rookie Mitchell Robinson defends without fouling, Fizdale considers it a win. Then he looks to build on the small victories by making them happen more consistently.
“Now that I’m coaching this team and I understand that we’re going to go through struggles, I’ve had to kind of reboot myself and say what’s really a victory for us,” he said.
Approaching basketball with wins and losses on the backburner is something that’s been difficult, and Fizdale immediately thinks about Sixers coach Brett Brown and how difficult it must have been for the Sixers during their recent years of rebuilding.
“I can only imagine what Brett had to go through to get through three, four years of that struggle. I’m hoping ours is not that long obviously; I don’t know if I’m as tough as Brett that way,” Fizdale said with a laugh. “I can only imagine because I know Brett. He’s an animal of a competitor, so for him to go through that, he had to do some retooling, I’m sure.”
Speaking of competitors who hate to lose, it’s not just Fizdale who has to buy into the idea of a moral victory or small victories. He has a team of players that he has to convince that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
For the most part, the young players on the Knicks are buying into the development process. But there are also players such as Enes Kanter, an eight-year veteran who takes losing personally and remembers each loss, including the 117-91 blowout loss Nov. 28 to the Sixers.
“They beat us pretty bad,” Kanter said. “We need to come out really ready tonight and be ready to go.”
From Fizdale’s perspective, the Sixers were more competitive all around than the Knicks were and the New York squad will be looking to make adjustments to make things more difficult for the Sixers when the teams meet Wednesday night. But, even if the Knicks leave the building by adding to their loss total, Fizdale will be searching for the silver linings and small wins within the game.
Tim Hardaway Jr., who sat out Monday’s loss to Phoenix, will play Wednesday against the Sixers. Fizdale said that Hardaway has been dealing with persistent soreness in his right heel from plantar fasciitis and his playing time will completely depend on how Hardaway feels.