The Lakers got LeBron James and the Knicks got Mario Hezonja … but wait till next July.
“Hal-le-lu-jah,” coach David Fizdale said when asked Tuesday about James leaving the East for a four-year deal with the Lakers.
“But I can’t talk much about that stuff until all of those guys are inked, but whew. Look, I’ll take it. That’s all I can say.”
Fizdale spent the day before the Fourth of July at the Thomas & Mack Center in a “detailed teaching” session, explaining his position-less offense. It was the first day of Knicks’ summer-league practice.
With the inking of combo forward Hezonja, the Knicks’ free-agent work is mostly done, but next Fourth of July is full of possibility. The Knicks should have maximum cap space, and superstars Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard are due to become free agents. The Chicago Sun-Times reported Tuesday that Butler and Irving possibly want to team up.
Fizdale probably won’t be in a gym with the rookies next summer but jetting across the country when the master salesman anticipates “some big moves.”
“For sure,” Fizdale said when asked if he’ll be busier in July 2019. “We knew coming into this July there wasn’t a lot of money to spend. We wanted to be real strategic with who we went after and if it fit the kind of guys we wanted to have here.
“I felt like we’ve done that and now we can just lock in, get into the group we have, start developing these guys, growing these guys, let them go through the ups and downs. And as we get our culture in place, [Kristaps Porzingis] gets healthy, we start moving into next summer, I really feel like we’ll have the bricks in place to make some big moves.”
LeBron James deal is Magic Johnson's masterpieceThe Knicks — who open summer-league play Saturday, when rookie first-rounder Kevin Knox makes his debut — are attempting to re-establish themselves as a destination for free agents. Despite the Lakers’ five-year playoff drought — same as the Knicks — James didn’t wait a day before announcing Sunday he wanted purple and gold.
Fizdale is a Los Angeles native and understands what the Lakers bring. But he knows what the Knicks bring too, despite having won just two NBA titles and a 45-year drought since their most recent one. Fizdale said he couldn’t talk specifically about James’ decision until the moratorium on signings ends Friday. Fizdale is close with James from their days with the Heat.
“That’s the L.A. Lakers for you,’’ Fizdale said. “That’s all I’ve seen them do growing up. They are a legacy team. They built something extremely special out there historically, and if this stuff goes through, that falls in line with what they’ve always done.”
Can the Knicks have the same aura as the “Lake Show” and that franchise’s 16 titles?
“Despite the number of rings the Knicks have, the history and the fan base and the passion of the team and the city is all the same from that standpoint,’’ Fizdale said. “I just feel like if we continue to build this the right way, Scott [Perry] and Steve [Mills] have done an incredible job of lining it up so that we’re in a position next summer to make moves.
“I just feel like with the relationships we’ve built and our approach to the game and our view of players and the way we view guys and the way we treat guys and the culture we want to build, I really think we’re going to find somebody who fits the bill.”
Landing Hezonja, who had a two-year offer from Portland, is a baby step in changing the organization’s image. The Knicks got him for a one-year, $6.5 million deal to preserve their future cap space.
“I’ve always looked at it as a great situation,’’ Fizdale said. “I look at it as risk versus reward. You win in New York the reward is history. I feel like for all of the things they say are pitfalls in New York, there are more rewards and benefits. How many places have a consistent fan base no matter what? Losing, winning. New York fans show up.”
Fizdale wasn’t permitted to talk about Hezonja specifically but he fits into his offense of position-less basketball, able to play the small forward, power forward and shooting guard.
“Absolutely,’’ Fizdale said when asked if Hezonja aligns with his philosophy.