BOSTON — Up in the land of Kyrie, Knicks coach David Fizdale gave his strongest case yet that the Knicks have become an attractive free-agent destination after 25 games on the job.
The Knicks are closing in on having cap space for a maximum salary this summer but have work to do. Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving, a Northern Jersey product, was considered their best chance until he proclaimed he will re-sign, but that is no guarantee after the Celtics’ sluggish start.
Irving’s backup, Terry Rozier, is also a restricted free agent, and the two of them may not be able to coexist long term. The Knicks like Rozier a lot, according to a source.
The specter of Kevin Durant’s wandering eye has the Knicks on red alert. Durant never gave Phil Jackson a Hamptons meeting in 2016. Across recent years, James Dolan’s Knicks no longer became the Big Apple of superstar’s eyes. Hiring Jackson as president didn’t seem to improve matters.
“It’s much more about the perception of the organization,” Fizdale said at Thursday morning’s shootaround at TD Garden before the Celtics rematch at 8 p.m. “What I think we’ve done together with Steve [Mills] and Scott [Perry], Mr. Dolan and myself and all our staff is we changed the perception of how we operate and treat each other and what’s important.
“That’s the first step in getting people to come to New York. When they see we have a really tight ship, really take care of our guys, our guys get better and get a lot of attention. Hopefully all of those things, with the combination of the understanding we have Kristaps Porzingis there, too, this team isn’t necessarily what our record is when you put him in the mix. We have something free agents will like.”
The Knicks are just 7-18 — with a road victory in Boston on Thanksgiving Eve arguably their top conquest. But Fizdale feels they’ve made a statement.
“We all know each other around the league, so I get a lot of people [telling me] just what people think about us, how hard our kids play, the fact that we have a no-quit attitude, obviously Scott and Steve have great reputations with different people around the league, and hopefully my relationships will be another way to come and bring it all together,” Fizdale said.
Apparently he’s getting love from Dolan, who has stayed further in the background than any other season in recent memory.
“Fantastic, he’s been so on board with everything we’re doing, he’s been so supportive and it’s been really nice building a relationship,” Fizdale said. “Mr. Dolan’s big thing is, are we sticking to our process? We are. That’s been the good part about it. Our situation with our roster is where we want it. Our star’s getting healthy. When the time comes for free agency and all of those things, I think we’re gonna be in a good position.”
Fizdale said he wouldn’t comment on when Porzingis would be back at practice, clearly sensitive about talking about the Latvian star since he made remarks last month he was doing “light running” and no sprinting and wasn’t planning on a 2018-19 return. Porzingis took exception and posted on Instagram a photo of him sprinting on a track that day.
Meanwhile, Knicks center Enes Kanter, who will be a free agent and probably can’t re-sign if the Knicks land a big fish, thinks the organization’s reputation has improved. Kanter credited some of it to the congenial Mills-Perry tandem.
“There was this thing, I don’t know what — people don’t want to come here or they were just scared,” Kanter admitted. “With all this new front office, with the coach and everything, it definitely changes. If you see the moves, see the pieces have changed, you see all the young guys have come in and everything, I think it’s definitely changing. It’s definitely going to a good destination.”
Kanter said no doubt a player’s profile rises in New York and used himself as an example, with a sharp uptick in his Twitter and Instagram followers. Kanter played in two of the smallest markets prior, Utah and Oklahoma City.
“I think different personality or not, you’re definitely in front of everybody’s eyes every time because you carry that New York in front of you,” Kanter said. “So every time you go out there you’ve got to have that mindset that everybody is watching you. If you play bad with some other teams, they care a little bit about it. If you play bad in New York … it’s definitely extra motivation and stress.”
The Knicks coach believes the Knicks have to maintain this changing image and not take it for granted. Fizdale hears from longtime Knicks employees who see a difference.
“They’ve gone through a lot of different staffs and coaches and things like that so they can tell me, ‘Hey, this is where we fell short before, this is where we’re pretty good,’” Fizdale said. “We have to sustain it. I’m not sitting here celebrating it from the standpoint of we’ve arrived or we got this whole thing figured out. It’s just I felt we’re doing it the right way step by step, piece by piece.”
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