Derek Fisher ready to step up as New York Knicks head coach
Phil Jackson turns to one of his most trustworthy former players for his first coaching hire
Derek Fisher was never the best player, certainly not the tallest or quickest.
But whether on the court with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, or across the bargaining table from NBA commissioners David Stern and Adam Silver, he never feared taking the shot, speaking his mind, or doing whatever else was expected of a leader.
So he has every attribute the New York Knicks need – except experience as a coach, the job they hired him to do.
“But I am experienced,” Fisher said. “Basketball is a game that I am experienced in playing, understanding, leading in, guiding in, helping another group of people achieve the greatest gift in the world as a professional athlete, and that’s being a champion.
“That I have experience in, and that’s the experience that I plan on sharing with these players, sharing with this organisation.”
That’s what made Phil Jackson turn to one of his most trustworthy former players for his first coaching hire. Just days after finishing his 18th season, the 39-year-old Fisher was chosen to replace Mike Woodson, whom Jackson fired in his first major move as team president.
Fisher won five championships playing for Jackson with the Los Angeles Lakers and was known for his knack for hitting clutch postseason shots while playing an NBA-record 259 play-off games. But some of his most important work came in the locker room, just as it will now.
The Knicks went 37-45 and missed the play-offs, just a year after winning the Atlantic Division and advancing to the Eastern Conference semi-finals. Jackson, who declined an original offer to coach the team, was instead hired to run the front office in March and fired Woodson the week after the season ended.
He was seeking someone familiar with the triangle offence and someone with little or no coaching experience that he could teach. The Knicks nearly closed a deal to hire Steve Kerr, who instead left a TV commentating job to coach the Golden State Warriors.
Jackson then turned his attention to Fisher, even getting fined US$25,000 last week when he was too open about his interest in the point guard who was still under contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Terms of Fisher’s deal were not released, but a person with knowledge of the details said it was worth US$25 million over five years – the same length of Jackson’s contract and about the same deal Kerr signed with the Warriors.
Fisher won three straight titles from 2000-02 on the Lakers teams led by O’Neal and Bryant, and helped them win again in 2009 and ’10. He was respected among players around the league and was the president of the players association during the 2011 lockout.
Fisher was still a key contributor for the Thunder this season, helping them reach the Western Conference finals.