Somewhere, Matt Barnes is smiling.
But while many Knicks fans are also rejoicing in the fact that Derek Fisher was removed from his coaching duties Monday, team president Phi Jackson noted the “embarrassing” episode between the Memphis Grizzlies forward and the now detached coach had very little impact in his decision.
Instead, it was the rather “sluggish” play which was fostered by Fisher that was the real impetus. Fisher, who was only halfway through the second year of his five-year, $25-million deal, was fired early Monday, as the Knicks (23-31) are losers in nine of their last 10 outings.
- Celebrity deaths 2018: All the stars we lost too soon 46 Pictures
- Photos: Starbucks Reserve Roastery NYC reconnects you with your coffee 48 Pictures
How quickly things have turned for the squad that just two weeks ago was a respectable 22-22 and winners in eight of their previous 12 games. But, as Jackson noted, a small rash of injuries and a malaise has knocked them down several pegs in the conference standings, to the point where they’re now in the 12th spot.
“This was my decision. Well, more of me and [general manager] Steve Mills. We’ve been talking about it for a few days,” Jackson said, noting something had to change and it’s usually the coach who goes first. “It’s a lot easier to fire a coach than 15 players. But it’s not always about the coach. The injuries, like to Melo [Carmelo Anthony], are beyond our control ... Turning around a team that won 17 last season is a remarkable feat. But saying that, we thought our team could be playing better. Derek’s moved this franchise forward and we thanked him for that.”
That appreciation was about all Fisher was afforded on his way out the door, as he has the ignominy of being canned by his former coach and mentor.
Assistant coach Kurt Rambis will take the reigns as the interim head coach, and Jackson said the switch in coaching styles may actually jolt the team.
“Kurt has a lot of games under his belt. He’s been around for 30-something years, as a player and coach,” Jackson said. “There’s a certain levity to Kurt. He’s more relaxed and finds humor in life. He knows it’s serious, but still just a game.”
Jackson might’ve also given a glimpse into the real reason he made the switch, lamenting that a neophyte coach like Fisher rarely sought the advice of Jackson’s hand-picked veteran assistants – like Rambis and Jim Cleamons.
“He had a great support staff with some experienced coaches, [but] there was never a real consensus on our staff, so we thought we needed to change that,” he said.
The change will come in the form of the looser, player-friendly Rambis. Jackson said they’ll reevaluate after the season, to see if they remove the interim tag or go elsewhere. Knicks fans, though, should already be reminded that Jackson won’t be among the candidates.
“Not one second,” Jackson said when asked if he’d come out of retirement. “It's not within my physical capabilities.”
Metro breaks down the possibilities of the next Knicks head coach.
Tom Thibodeau – He’s a former Knicks assistant coach under Jeff Van Gundy and likely the best available option on the market. The man known as “Thibs” is a creative defensive mind, though. And with the Knicks a respectable 13th in the league in points allowed but 23rd in offense, he may not be the best fit. Plus, Thibodeau has little to no experience in the Triangle, although sources say the gruff coach has told those close to him that he wants the job and would be very flexible and open to using Jackson’s preferred offense. Jackson said he was impressed with the coach, but wouldn’t discuss his availability: “I have no response. I respect Tom as a coach … but I’m not out soliciting coaches right now.”
Luke Walton – He played under Jackson as a player on the Lakers. And more recently, he oversaw one of the all-time great starts to an NBA season when he took over for a rehabbing Steve Kerr, as the defending champion Golden State Warriors are serious contenders for the single-season win record. Walton is everything Jackson thought he had in Fisher.
KurtRambis – He may not be the most attractive choice, as he’s not as accomplished as Thibodeau, nor ascending like the red-hot Walton, but Rambis is a good friend to Jackson, a confidant, and knows what the Zen Master is looking for in a system. Although, it should be noted that Rambis went 17-65 in his last year in Minnesota -- the same record that Fisher had last year -- there’s a kinship with Jackson and also a sense of subordination that perhaps Fisher failed to develop.
“It’s always good to have a relationship [with a coach],” said Jackson. “It’s not paramount, but it’s something I’m going to have to have a relationship with someone if they're going to coach this team. That's just how it works. Communication has to be there in a job like that.”
- The remaining guaranteed portion of Fisher's contract is for four years and $17 million, which means the Knicks owe him $8.5 million over the next two years.
- Fisher finished with the second-worst winning percentage in Knicks history (.294), just ahead of Larry Brown (.280).
- Jackson gave a quick “no,” when asked if he thought Fisher lost the team, rather it was just time for a change. He also added that there were some “bright spots” in the way the team played at times, particularly with improved ball movement, and also with the way Fisher was developing guys like Langston Galloway and Lance Thomas.
- Regarding the trade deadline, Jackson didn’t sound like the team would be buyers: “We have a couple of players that are probably off the table. But like any team that’s looking for improvement, we’re open for discussion. But we’re probably not in a favorable position.”
- Thanasis Antetokounmpo's 10-day contract with the Knicks expired, Sunday night. No word yet from management if there’s been a renewal.
- Jackson on Anthony’s All-Star game status: “He still should be in the game ... but maybe not full bore.”