Challenges await Knicks’ coach Fisher

By Jeff Caplan,

VIDEO: Fisher introduced as coach of Knicks

Veteran coaches George Karl and Lionel Hollins are still knocking on doors. Longtime assistant and former New York Knicks great Patrick Ewing still can’t get a sniff for a head coaching job even as 19 of the league’s 30 teams decided to hire new coaches since the end of last season.

Including Ewing’s old Knicks with their new president with the famous limp and all that bling.

Phil Jackson wanted to keep his coaching search within his Triangle-of-trust, so to speak, so once former top choice and former Chicago Bulls sharpshooter Steve Kerr spurned him to take the Golden State Warriors’ gig, Jackson tapped the next man up, freshly retired Derek Fisher. The former Los Angeles Lakers point guard put a wrap on a distinguished 18-year career following the Oklahoma City Thunder’s loss in the Western Conference finals just 11 days ago.

On Tuesday, the dapperly dressed Fisher was introduced as the 26th coach of the New York Knicks. Jackson, and Knicks owner James Dolan, awarded him a five-year, $25-million contract to breath some blue-collar life into a high-ego and seemingly incongruent, salary-cap-strapped roster.

Fisher, although, promptly pointed out, as any smart coach would, that he’s more optimistic about the immediate potential of his new team than are most observers.

“I’m not as down on the roster and the team as some of you in the room are,” Fisher said, smiling at reporters gathered at Madison Square Garden.

Fisher has always been something of a political animal.

VIDEO: Fisher talks about his experience

He was also the perfect set-up man and emotional stabilizer to play next to the Lakers’ high-strung star. Fisher was a steady, level-headed and intelligent quarterback who didn’t need to score to be satisfied, but was always ready to take the big shot. He made plenty of them along the road to five Lakers championships with Kobe and Phil.

Fisher, 39, never was the natural talent or showman like Jason Kidd, his now-crosstown coaching rival in Brooklyn who preceded Fisher by one year in making the rare move of stepping out of the locker room and into the coach’s chair.

But like Kidd, Fisher enjoyed a long career as a successful floor general and garners a high level of respect from the league’s players. With Oklahoma City for parts of the last three seasons, Fisher gained the trust and admiration of the Thunder’s front office and coach Scott Brooks, and served as a hybrid assistant coach-mentor-sounding board for the team’s two young stars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

“He’s well-respected in the locker room, knows the game of basketball, great basketball mind and he’s been in situations before,” Durant said during the Thunder’s exit interviews. “Having those guys that respect you and you have that experience, it helps. He’s a great leader, a great communicator … he works extremely hard and he’s dedicated.”

Jackson’s belief is that Fisher will forge a similar relationship with currently discontented Knicks star Carmelo Anthony, assuming he re-signs.

Even if Anthony stays, Fisher’s new job is going to be tough. The roster, despite Fisher’s early protestation, is in tatters. The Knicks do not have a first-round draft pick and because the team’s 2014-15 payroll is already pushing well into the luxury tax, Jackson’s hands are mostly tied to make impactful changes this summer.

It makes Fisher’s situation more dire than the one Kidd inherited after he retired from the Knicks following the 2012-13 season and surprisingly stepped into the Nets’ top job. Kidd took over a better roster, buttressed by former Celtics greats Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and one essentially free of troublemakers. Although the season started shakily with Kidd absorbing heavy criticism, even though early injuries played a significant role, Kidd eventually found his footing and the Nets finished the season strongly, advancing to the second round.

Fisher got a taste of wait awaits before he even woke up this morning. Eccentric shooting guard J.R. Smith proclaimed on Twitter in the early morning hours that he’s done with his sixth-man role:

Perhaps Jackson is taking a big risk by hiring a man with no coaching experience to handle this job. Jackson said he’s betting on Fisher’s experiences playing with this generation’s players, calling Fisher “hip-hop-ready.”

And even the most accomplished coaches, such as Karl, would have a devil of a time flipping these Knicks back into the 54-win team they were just a season ago. With Fisher, Jackson at least knows he’ll always have his ear and will always be on the same page. Jackson can guide Fisher’s entrance into the profession as a firm rudder and in shaping the style the Knicks will bring to the Garden floor.

Then it becomes about Jackson earning his $60 million and crafting a roster of players that can execute the game plan — and stealing Durant as a free agent in 2016 shouldn’t be Plan A, at least not yet. The cold, hard truth is this rebuild is going to take time and patience.

“He always tries to tell you and let you know what’s right,” the Thunder’s Westbrook said of Fisher. “It may not be what you want to hear all the time, but what’s right is what’s right.”

Words Fisher will want to continue to live by as a rookie head coach making the leap onto a very big stage.

VIDEO: Jackson, Mills talk about Fisher’s qualities


  1. cpcheung says:

    Fisher cannot fish without moving away the big rock — Melo.

  2. hammar says:

    Knicks need a good point guard and shooting guard as well as someone who could rebound the ball. As long a Anthony resigns for the Knicks to be playoff bound.

  3. felonious says:

    For years the dysfunction of the Knicks organization has been blamed on James Dolan who has been characterized most kindly as meddling. That may be the case but with all that meddling came untold resources so at some point one has to extend the blame to the entire management staff, the haphazard collection of execs, coaches and players and plans that haven’t really fit since Riley faxed his resignation to Checketts (before Dolan arrived). Phil Jackson took the job to resurrect order and to imprint an identity on the team. Fisher is a great start and if his comments yesterday are any indication he grasps that his role is to make that new identity evident in the way the team plays the game. Yes the NBA is a players league but San Antonio has proven that an understated star and a group that plays collectively can succeed impressively year after year.. New York has waited way to long to witness a rebirth of the we-first play of the Holtzman years and Phil Jackson knows it. Fitting that a heady guard, like Holtzman himself has been given the job.

  4. samdonjennings says:

    I think J.R meant no more ‘getting benched’ for me. Seems like he wants 6th man of the year in that tweet or am I wrong?

  5. jake s. says:

    If ‘Melo leaves the Knicks then I think the Fisher effect (for you accounting nerds out there) will inflate. If ‘Melo stays, i think that Fish will not be respected the same way. I agree with “Unkle Daddy”. Phil knows it takes time and patience for an investment to pay off, especially on a nightly basis. Start investing now. The Knicks cannot just sign another top free agent and expect to see long-term dividends. For the Knicks, the three points of the triangle are leadership, patience, and luck. The right execution will lead to the biggest payday of them all.

  6. Unkle Daddy says:

    It’s good he isn’t down on his roster, but truthfully major changes need made before this team can move forward. I say trade out Melo and Smith for some solid young talent and a great first round draft pick in the up coming draft. Then call it a re-build.

  7. Io says:

    Coach fish being “inexperienced” as head coach as they say, no, I personally think that it would be much easier for The Zen Master to inculcate teachings to fish than to any other more experienced guy for the position, and we’ll I guess, in his own ways, coach fish has been coaching players since he started his nba career. All the best for the Knicks. I’m a melo fan and became a Knicks fan since melo got there but now even if melo won’t re-sign, I’d still be a fan of my Knicks.

  8. Tom says:

    People call him a good guy and ‘standup’ when he’s used his family to lie his way out of multiple contracts to ring-chase?

  9. Kobe-Carmelo-James-Love-Nash says:

    He will be a great coach.. He has been in NBA as a player long enough.. Lakers needs you but it’s too late now.. Good luck Fisher..

  10. Dawood Bhuiyan says:

    Under the Leadership of Phil and new head coach Derek, I am definitely hopeful and Nicks started a journey in right direction. I am pretty sure if everything work well the Nicks will be real championship contender soon.

  11. Dawood Bhuiyan says:

    Under the Leadership of Phil and new head coach Derek, I am definitely hopeful and Nicks started a journey in right direction. I am pretty sure if everything work well the will be real championship contender soon.

  12. Kimmy says:

    Congrats to Fisher. In spite of everything, I think he will do well eventually. Your 1st order of business is to get rid of the bums, starting with JR Smith. Make his dreams come true, trade him to Sacramento, so he can be starter w/ Cousins and stir up mess.

  13. Faba says:

    from phil jacksons standpoint he made a mistake with Fisher as a coach. I think he has a stronger will than steve kerr and wont fit in in that puppet role phil is envisioning. Fisher always looks to be in a good position even if its not the best for the people around him just ask the Mavericks or the Nbpa.

    • Io says:

      I think fish won’t be Phil’s puppet, the zen master trusts him enough only to guide him through his rookie season as a coach, good point though, fish has his own ways.

  14. TrayMac89 says:

    From Arkansas with love. I wish you the best. Since entering the leauge in 96 you have been a standup guy. it will be tough, just about as tough as it was/is to win Nba titles. Good luck fish!

  15. Simon says:

    I personally would like to welcome Derek Fisher to the Knick family. I cannot speak for the entire community, but I believe that his lack of experience will give us a fresh look even if it is the triangle offense. And who better than its creator (or at least the person that has been the most successful with it) and the person that directed it. Also dare I say that the two of them have more rings then a great many teams together.

    Lastly, New York can and will be a hard city to be in when the Knicks lose. However, I will be patient for the party to begin and will love every minute of the journey.

  16. Knicks fan says:

    i’m not big on rookie coaches but i hope he and Phil can help us prosper

  17. Ray Ray says:

    I hope he does well, he is a real good guy from what I can see.

  18. A Baller says:

    This season’s going to be interesting….