New York Knicks Hall of Famer and Madison Square Garden Network broadcaster Walt "Clyde" Frazier took some time to talk about the Knicks during his Balling and Calling youth program in New York City this week. In between sharing his advice on basketball and broadcasting to kids at the sold-out camp, Frazier shared his thoughts on Phil Jackson, Carmelo Anthony, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Steve Mills during an interview with ESPN.
Below is the Q&A:
Q: What's it been like calling Knicks games recently?
Clyde: I feel bad for the fans. Obviously, I feel New York fans are the greatest fans and the team has been very disappointing the last few years so from that prospect, I haven’t been happy.
Q: What is the direction of the team going forward?
Clyde: Going forward, we’re rebuilding again. It seems like every two or three years we start from scratch. Obviously, I was hopeful when Phil came. We know about his prowess as a coach and all the rings and we thought he could bring credibility to the Knicks and that hasn’t happened. So now we’re back to square one essentially and now Melo is on a rampage that he doesn’t want to come back, so without Melo, there’s a lot of pressure on KP [Kristaps Porzingis] to step up and try to be the guy. But I was telling the kids that the main key is defense, man. Whether they receive any new players, they’ve got to tighten up their defense. The offense was league average, 105 points per game. But looking at it overall, it could be a very difficult year for the team. A lot of new faces. A lot of expectations. KP left, I don’t know if they’ve communicated with him, getting him back into the mix. Last year, I was a lot more optimistic than I am this year starting the season.
Q: You mentioned Phil and what didn't work well there. What was your reaction when you heard the news he was gone?
Clyde: I was shocked when they released him. He gave me an opportunity to go to the draft representing the Knicks. I was hoping I could bring them some luck and we could do better than the eighth pick. But I was telling the kids that I was the first-round draft choice in 1967 and Phil was second round. He was my roommate, we were very close. So I was very disappointed that it didn’t work out for him.
Q: What do you think contributed to the lack of success during his time here?
Clyde: I think the main lack of success with Phil was lack of communication -- with the players, with the fans. When things ran amok, he never really told the fans, "I’m happy (or) I’m disappointed." He never said anything. So from that perspective, I was kind of disappointed that he didn’t relate to the people. New York fans, they want to know. They’re the most knowledgeable fans. You’ve got to communicate. And even with the players, like what happened with KP. When he went AWOL, I thought Phil should have fined him right away, man. Show some discipline. He didn’t even talk to the guy for a while and obviously it got worse from there.
Q: Have you talked to Phil since he was fired?
Clyde: No, I haven’t talked to him. I’m kind of letting it die down and obviously I’ll give him a call.
Q: What is the best way forward for the Knicks and Carmelo Anthony at this point?
Clyde: I think right now there’s too much bad blood. But Melo has to know that this is a business. There’s nothing personal. I told the kids I got traded. I was with the Knicks for 10 years. They traded me to Cleveland. I was devastated but I know this is how it works. I knew when they traded Wilt Chamberlain, anybody could be traded ... . From that point on, I knew that anyone was vulnerable to be traded. It’s a business so Melo knows that. He can’t hold a grudge that the Knicks tried to trade him. Come on, man. That’s how the game goes. But right now it seems like he’s not willing to sacrifice to come back to the team.”
Q: What do you think about Steve Mills and Scott Perry leading the team going forward?
Clyde: I always liked Steve. I think he’s a good guy. He’s always been cordial to me. He seems very knowledgeable about the game. He’s been around it a long time and so has Scott. So hopefully they can become a formidable team and get the team back on a championship-caliber playing (field).
Q: The biggest move for the Knicks this offseason has been to bring Tim Hardaway Jr. back. What did you think of that signing?
Clyde: I was disappointed when Tim left. I’ll never forget, the night of the (2015) draft, Tim Hardaway was in my restaurant watching it on TV. So he’s sitting there and they announced that he got traded. So how embarrassing; the guy didn’t know what to do. So after about two minutes he got up and walked outside. It’s like devastating. He’s sitting there trying to enjoy the draft and then he finds out he got traded. So I’m happy to see him back. I always thought he was an integral part of what the Knicks could be. He brought quickness, a relentless type of player. He’s like a John Starks. He’s not afraid to take big shots, he makes things happen on the court so I’m delighted to see him back.
Q: This idea going forward -- building around Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Willy Hernangomez, Frank Ntilikina -- seems like a rebuild in a way the Knicks haven't tried in the past. What do you think about that approach?
Clyde: Well in New York, young players, inexperienced, (it) doesn’t work (chuckles). This is a city, they want you to win now. The pressure’s always on the Knicks to win now. Historically, they’ve never allowed the Knicks to rebuild. The Mets can rebuild, the Jets, the Giants can go on a five-year rebuild. The Knicks have always been under the gun to win now. So I’m hoping that this is a new direction that the team is going in trying to win by the draft and not bringing in players that are over the hill and trying to fill the void right away. So the fans have proven that they will be patient. As long as the Knicks give 100 percent, the fans will root for them. They know right now the team is lacking talent. But if they come out and hustle, the fans have been selling out all of the games and they will continue to support them.
Q: So if fans felt as if there was a plan going forward, would they support a rebuild?
Clyde: Yeah, I think they would be amenable to that. Because the other thing hasn’t worked. The other way hasn’t worked. So now, you’ve got to try something different. And like I said, the fan support is still strong and they’re with the team.
Q: Back to Phil for a second: It seems like he was on that rebuilding path but then he went in win-now mode right away. How do you assess his time as president?
Clyde: Well, last year I was so impressed with what the Knicks were doing. When they brought in Rose, they brought in Noah -- I was like, "Yeah!" -- we had KP, we had Melo. I just knew we were a playoff team. There’s no way I didn’t see that team making the playoffs. Obviously, like everyone else, I was devastated when they didn’t make the playoffs, things unraveled. And it eventually cost Phil his job, probably.
Q: If you were talking to Carmelo right now, what would your advice be to him given the situation that he's in and the Knicks are in?
Clyde: If I was talking to Melo, I would say, you can’t base your career on winning a championship. Like Patrick Ewing, they say he’s the greatest Knick ever but some people say he’s not because he didn’t win a championship. I don’t feel that. I still feel that he’s perhaps the greatest Knick ever. But a lot of the players today are hung up on winning championships. Melo’s had a phenomenal career. He’s just been in a scenario where he hasn’t been able to win a ring. Now he’s going to spend the next two years or three years or four years chasing a situation and trying to get a ring. And I think it’s very disappointing. Even LeBron [James] is in that same scenario. LeBron, obviously the greatest player right now, for the next four or five years he’s going to be jumping around teams trying to chase another championship that might not happen. Where he shouldn’t have to do that, man. He’s authenticated who he is and what he has and he’s won rings. So live with that. But a lot of these guys, they can’t with the pressure from the public and everybody else on them, they continue to think that the more rings they accumulate, the better they’re going to be, so I think in the end it’s going to be devastating for Melo and LeBron. Right now the Warriors are too strong, especially for the next two or three years, I don’t see anybody beating them.
Q: You talked about being disappointed with how things have gone for the Knicks recently. What do you think has to change going forward for them to get back to the success they've had in the past?
Clyde: Well, we just alluded to Steve Mills and their rebuilding process through the draft and not looking to trade for guys that are over the hill, bringing in the big names. Just going on a plan, having a plan. Like I tell these kids, you’ve got to have a plan. People don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan. So the Knicks now have that plan. We have a nice core here, young players. Let’s stick to that. Not next year try to trade those players and bring in another superstar type caliber player and abandon that plan. So they’ve got to hold steady to what they believe in and I think the group that they have now will do that. I think Mills is very low key, confident. He knows New York, he knows the expectations here. So I think they are going to do the right thing to bring the team to its former grandeur.