Less than a month after playing in his final NBA game, Derek Fisher became the 26th Head Coach in New York Knicks franchise history.
Fisher, who was recruited to New York by his former coach and current Knicks President Phil Jackson, was a five time NBA Champion with the Lakers under Jackson’s leadership. Fisher ranks 16th on the NBA’s all-time games played list (1287) and first in playoff appearances (259). He also served as President of the NBA Players Association from 2006-13 and was always a well-respected leader on and off the basketball court.
Phil Jackson knew he wanted to bring in Fisher to coach the Knicks because of the strong relationship they built in their successful days with the Los Angeles Lakers. For this year however, they had unfamiliar roles, Jackson as the Knicks President and Fisher their coach.
Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher proceeded a long line of expensive and unsuccessful employees in their same positions. Team owner James Dolan has long been criticized for his personnel hiring’s and occasional involvement in front office decisions.
Larry Brown, Isaiah Thomas, Donnie Walsh, Mike D’Antoni, Glen Grunwald, and Mike Woodson failed to bring the Knicks to anything more than extremely short-lived success but what kind of legacy will Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher leave in their days in New York? Hopefully not more of what happened in year one of Dolan’s latest Knicks experiment.
The first year of Jackson and Fisher’s regime can be described simply as a failed experiment. The Knicks finished with a franchise worst 17-65 record leaving Fishers winning percentage at a lowly .207. After firing Mike Woodson at the end of last season, Phil Jackson began his quest of changing the culture of the New York Knicks.
He hired Fisher and then began to reshape the roster, first by trading away Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to the Dallas Mavericks for a package highlighted by Jose Calderon and a second round draft pick that turned into Witchita States’s Cleanthony Early. Jackson believed that he could make a Knicks roster comprised of Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Andrea Bargnani among others fit his preferred triangle offense.
At the beginning of the season, no one knew what exactly to expect from the new look Knicks but they began to lose games and Jackson needed to make changes because mediocrity is the worst place to be in the NBA; the Knicks wanted either wins or a high draft pick and the former would have to wait.
Phil Jackson would trade away J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert and waive Samuel Dalembert and Amar’e Stoudemire as well as shut down Carmelo Anthony for the rest of the season with a knee injury after the Knicks started with a 5-31 record. There was no longer a need for their talent and lucrative contracts this season. It was time for the Knicks to “tank”.
They were replaced by young players who never expected to play as many NBA minutes as they did, let alone on one of the biggest stages in sports in Madison Square Garden.
What Derek Fisher did, was rally a largely young and inexperienced group of players to compete hard every night despite the circumstances of expecting to lose. His confidence and trust in every single one of them inspired them to buy into the new Knicks culture and play some of the best basketball of their careers.
Remarkably, the Knicks won many more games with these summer leaguers and role players than the big names they let go of. They lost 21 games by six points or less. Without seeing the standings, one might think that Derek Fisher was leading a basketball revolution.
After the Knicks final game of the season Fisher said this about the first players he ever coached, “I’m thankful for each and every one of them regardless if they’re back or not. These guys will always be my first team, no matter what. Any success we have as an organization or me as a coach will start from there and from these guys…They’ve given this organization a lot.’’
Take point guard Langston Galloway as an example. He was an undrafted rookie from St. Joesph’s who was signed by the Knicks out of the development league and with his play, put himself in the conversation for All-Rookie team consideration. That doesn’t happen very often.
Derek Fisher could not have handled the Knicks season better from a cultural standpoint. He instilled his and Phil Jackson’s values into the players and got them to buy into the selfless triangle offense. There were definitely flashes of what Jackson envisioned when he first took over as president of the Knicks.
Looking ahead to next season, the sky’s the limit for the New York Knicks. They have one of the best players in the game in Carmelo Anthony, a top draft pick, and the most salary cap space they’ve had since the summer of 2010. Phil Jackson must take advantage of this opportunity and give Derek Fisher the proper tools to make the Knicks new culture truly that of a winner.