The Knicks officially announced the hiring of Derek Fisher as the franchise’s 26th head coach Tuesday. And perhaps no coach has had his credentials as scrutinized as the former NBA point guard.
But the always affable Fisher, once the NBA players’ association president, quickly dispelled the notion he’s not up for the immediate career change.
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“There obviously will be a lot of talk about my inexperience as a head coach and that is factually true. I have not been a head coach in the NBA, college or high school, but I am experienced,” said the 39-year-old Fisher. “Basketball is a game that I am experienced in playing, in its understanding, leading, guiding and helping a group of people achieve the greatest gift in the world as a professional athlete and that’s being a champion. That I am experienced in and that is something that I plan on sharing with these players and this organization.”
Fisher, who reportedly signed a five-year deal worth $25 million, went on to say he believes he’s been grooming himself for such duties since he was in elementary school.
“Preparing myself for this moment started at 6 years old when I played my first organized basketball,” said Fisher. “I’ve very rarely been the best player, most talented, the tallest, the highest jumper or the best shooter on my basketball team, so right away I immediately had to start thinking how the game was played, how I could find my advantages and being the most effective, even though I wasn’t the most gifted and talented. For the last 33 years that’s how I viewed the game. And that’s why I’ve been around this business for the last 18 years because I always saw the game as a coach.”
Knicks president Phil Jackson, the man who once coached Fisher — and who repeatedly turned down overtures to coach the Knicks he before Mike Woodson was let go — said he had his eye on Fisher for years. Jackson also noted that Steve Kerr spurning the Knicks for the Golden State Warriors could be seen as a blessing since Fisher just feels like a great fit, while Kerr hemmed and hawed at accepting the position.
“I hadn’t talked to Derek [prior to his retirement], but I anticipated that there was a chance he’d want to do this from prior conversations over past summers when he was weighing his future of still playing or going into coaching,” said Jackson. “He has encyclopedic knowledge about the game and he’s current with the players. This is a different era of player. No longer are players listening to the Grateful Dead. Derek is hip-hop ready to get going with guys and relating in their language. That’s what resonated with me.”
When asked whether Fisher’s inexperience as a head coach was at all a deterrent, Jackson made it clear that his former player was always an extension of all the great minds for which he played during his 18-year NBA career.
“He’s meticulous, which is one of the reasons why I thought him to be the perfect coach. There’s a learning process, but he’s been in an assistant coach/player role for years and learned from under some of the best,” Jackson said, naming the notables, but excluding himself. “Derek’s had Don Nelson, Jerry Sloan and obviously the latest being Scotty Brooks. He has a long laundry list of coaches that he’s worked under with a tremendous amount of success.”
Success hasn’t come easy for the Knicks over the last 15 years, as the franchise has only won one playoff series in the last 14 seasons. And besides such on-court apathy, Fisher and the Knicks face the immediate reality that they have only nine players under contract next season but it’s for a total of $68 million — not including Carmelo Anthony’s player option.
New York also doesn’t have any draft picks this year – although Jackson has hinted they might try to buy a second-round pick. Fisher noted all the challenges, but said he’s still “excited” and relishes the challenges ahead of building a competitive franchise — one that won’t have many picks to expedite the process as they only have one pick in 2015 and none in 2016.
“The key word is embracing. I embrace the challenge,” said Fisher. “There are some things here we’ll deal with that we can’t control, but we’ll work together to figure out what gives us the best chance to be where we want to be.”
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.