Knicks candidate must explain the Gasol revolt that got him fired
The NBA was stunned when current Knicks target David Fizdale got the boot in late November — the longtime assistant-coaching stud getting cut down in just his second season in Memphis.
LeBron James, who won two titles with Fizdale in Miami, summed up the league’s reaction in a tweet: “I need some answers. Feels like my man was a fall guy.”
But he wasn’t a fall guy. According to a source close to Fizdale briefed on the Grizzlies’ decision, it was ownership having to make a choice — trade their All-Star center Marc Gasol, who has fallen in love with its small-market city, or fire the coach. Their relationship had gotten that bad.
With more qualified head coaches available than All-Star centers, Memphis president Chris Wallace gave Fizdale his pink slip and promoted J.B. Bickerstaff after an eight-game losing streak had put the team at 7-12.
“The mistake Fizdale made was neither he nor the star player gave an inch,’’ the source said. “They were going at each other — probably I’d say a personality conflict. It was one or the other. Now it could be an outlier. All the research Memphis did showed getting along with players as a strong suit.”
Hiring a coach who has connectivity with the locker room is high on the priority list for Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry, who plan to interview Fizdale this week as he emerges as a top candidate. Fizdale, 44, will also interview with Phoenix. And Charlotte also reportedly has heavy interest.
Knicks brass wants to know what happened to his relationship with the Spanish center and reports he benched Gasol in the fourth quarter of what turned into his last game just to mess with him.
There are similar theories the fired Jeff Hornacek embarrassed little-used Joakim Noah when he inexplicably removed him during the fourth quarter of garbage time in Golden State, leading to a rumble that prompted the center’s banishment.
During Thursday’s 45-minute press conference, Perry admitted it is asking too much to find a coach “who will check all the boxes.’’ But the Knicks believes Fizdale, according to the source, checks a lot of them.
According to the source, Fizdale impressed Grizzlies management in a lot of ways.
“He’s a good game coach, his preparation was great, he ran a good program,” the source said. “He’s also a terrific recruiter of free agents. Agents have talked about how well his presentations went in Memphis.”
Fizdale also has a strong bond with James and that could land the Knicks back on the King’s radar. Though the Knicks don’t have cap space until 2019, James, a free agent, has in recent seasons signed two-year contracts with an opt-out after one year. The Knicks would have to jump through hoops to open up enough cap space this summer, however.Also on the plus side, Fizdale got along well with Memphis brass — another important factor for Mills and Perry — and is considered more of a dynamic leader than Hornacek. Fizdale became the toast of Memphis for his “Take that for data’’ referee rant during the 2017 playoffs.
Fizdale spent the past several days with his friend, Steve Kerr, in Golden State watching him prepare for the playoffs.
“Steve and I have always had a great relationship,” Fizdale told The San Jose-Mercury News. “He was the first guy that called me when I got fired to say, ‘Wait a minute, this ain’t right.’ If you can’t get to a point where you don’t have an ego about this and you just want to share and learn, you end up getting better because of that. I really tried to hang my hat on that and learn from any person I can.”
In a recent interview with The Undefeated, Fizdale gave thanks to several of his mentors, including Mike Woodson, who hired him in Atlanta in 2004. (Woodson will also interview with the Knicks.)
“I think there are a lot of candidates who will see and understand the vision that we have, the type of people that we are, in conjunction with the city of New York and the historical significance of the Knicks,” Perry said Thursday. “This will be attractive job for a lot of coaches, and there will be a lot of interest in this job.”