Even before a startling news conference in the wake of a blowout loss to Cleveland on Sunday, New York Knicks president Steve Mills had started to lay the internal groundwork for the eventual dismissal of coach David Fizdale, league sources told ESPN.
Mills is selling owner James Dolan on a roster constructed to be highly competitive in the Eastern Conference, leaving Fizdale vulnerable to an ouster only weeks into the second season of a four-year contract that league sources say is worth $22 million.
Days before exiled star Kristaps Porzingis returns to Madison Square Garden with the Dallas Mavericks, Mills delivered the first public salvo on shaping an organizational narrative that the Knicks' struggles aren't born of an overmatched roster, but the lack of a "consistent level of effort and execution."
Rival coaches and executives see a mismatched Knicks roster slow of foot, without legitimate NBA guard play, but Mills is selling Dolan on a poorly coached team that is underachieving at 2-8 to start the season, league sources said. Around Madison Square Garden and the league, the timing and tone of the news conference was met with considerable surprise and dismay -- and it was considered to be a complete undermining of Fizdale.
"Everyone is moving to their positions now," a league source close to management and the coaching staff told ESPN. "This is how they'll make (Fizdale) the fall guy."
Fizdale told reporters Monday that the front office has "been very supportive to me."
"The fact we talk every day," he said, describing how he feels supported. "We are in constant communication with each other. We're very raw with each other. Good or bad. None of us have an ego about it. We're all on the same page of where we are trying to get to. End of the day, we are all in this together."
Asked if he had received any assurances about his job, Fizdale said: "I got a two-and-a-half year contract. That's my assurance. That's our business. The assurance is about I have a contract."
After the Knicks' 108-87 loss to Cleveland, Fizdale had been meeting with players in the postgame locker room when Mills led general manager Scott Perry into an impromptu news conference. It is customary for a head coach to be the first team official to talk to the media in a postgame setting, but Mills marched to the lectern to tells fans that the Knicks had fallen short of management's expectations.
"Scott and I are not happy with where we are right now," Mills said. "We think the team is not performing to the level that we anticipated or we expected to perform at, and that's something that we think we collectively have to do a better job of delivering the product on the floor..."
Knicks president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry address the media to voice their displeasure after the Knicks' 108-87 loss to the Cavaliers on Nov. 10.
Mills has presided over the arrivals and departures of five Knicks coaches. His overall record as team president is 165-337, including 48-126 since taking the job over from Phil Jackson in 2017.
As an organization, the Knicks could have survived missing out on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in July free agency -- but the trading of Porzingis to the Mavericks for role players and two first-round picks looms far more devastating to the franchise's future. Porzingis asked for a trade in February after management was unable to correct a rift with him --- or convince him of a path toward competency in the Eastern Conference.
Fizdale chose the Knicks over several other offers in 2018 -- including Atlanta, Charlotte and Phoenix -- under the assumption that he'd eventually coach Porzingis. Fizdale accepted responsibility for the team's struggles in his own postgame news conference Sunday night.
"I take the brunt of that responsibility because I am the head coach," Fizdale said. "I make these decisions -- what's happening on the court, what players play, who plays together, what plays we call the defensive system. That's on me."