City Sports Report

How Will Derek Fisher Fare as Head Coach of the New York Knicks?

Derek Fisher, New York Knicks Head Coach and Phil Jackson (Photo by Marc Rasbury)
Derek Fisher, New York Knicks Head Coach and Phil Jackson (Photo by Marc Rasbury)

Derek Fisher, New York Knicks Head Coach and Phil Jackson (Photo by Marc Rasbury)

Derek Fisher has been a tough, championship-level player for the majority of his career. Who can forget this big play for the Lakers versus the San Antonio Spurs:


Fisher was the consummate professional on the court and now he is moving on to an even bigger position. His former coach, Phil Jackson, President of Basketball for the New York Knicks, has decided to hire him as the new head coach. Phil said that he wanted someone that was connected to him and knew the Triangle Offense and Fisher surely is that guy. But the question remains, can Fisher get the Knicks where they want to go? With a roster that is limited until the summer of 2015 due to salary cap issues, Fisher has his work cut out for him. Coupled with the fact that he has no coaching experience at all, it looks to be an uphill battle for the rookie head coach. His hiring could go one or two ways. Let’s take a look at what we could expect.

Doc Rivers is one of the most revered coaches in the NBA. But at one point in time, he was a rookie head coach with the Orlando Magic. The season that Doc took over the Magic, Orlando had a roster that was littered with players that no one knew(John Amaechi, Kiwane Garris, Anthony Johnson, Chuckie Atkins, Derek Strong, Ben Wallace and Derrell Armstrong were among the names that very few even knew at the time). Doc took this team on with the expectation that they would finish last in the NBA. They had no one who was known to consistently score for them, no known rebounding and no established point guard. But instead of looking at it as a hindrance, Doc looked at it as an opportunity to make a name for himself in coaching. Rivers took the undermanned team to the brink of making the playoffs, just barely missing. In subsequent years, the team would add more talent for Rivers and they would become more competitive (Tracy McGrady was incredible for Doc and the Magic). But after a disastrous start to the 2003 season, the patience of the Magic brass wore thin and he was fired. Doc went out on a sour note, but he sure showed that he had the ability to be a good coach with the work he did in his first year of coaching. And now he has proven he is a good coach with his work for the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers on the sidelines.

Even more similar to Fisher’s sudden switch from playing to coaching is the sudden change for Brooklyn Nets head coach Jason Kidd. The veteran had just completed his playing days for the Knicks and announced his retirement when he began to make a strong pitch to the Nets about his desire to coach the team. The man who led the Nets to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances was sure he could go straight from playing to coaching seamlessly. Well, his plan convinced the Nets that he was ready to be the coach of the team when they hired him almost two weeks after he retired. The beginning of the season was rough for Kidd. He was coaching a couple of grizzly veterans in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, along with the team’s anointed stars in center Brook Lopez and point guard Deron Williams. The Nets did nothing to meet expectations and many felt that Kidd was a mistake to hire, especially after this badly acting he did on the sideline during a game:

But Kidd would go on to rebound from this mishap and lead the Brooklyn Nets towards the playoffs. They were one of the hottest teams in the NBA after January 1, 2014. They would go on to win a first-round series versus the Toronto Raptors before falling to the Miami Heat in the second round, but Kidd found a way to get his team on the right track and actually made some good tactical coaching moves. The first thing he did was go to a smaller lineup. Inserting backup point guard Shaun Livingston into the starting lineup, moving Garnett to the center position and sliding Paul Pierce to the power forward position, which gave opposing teams fits. It also helped Pierce because he was obviously not quick enough to guard small forwards on a regular basis. Another change Kidd made was relieving assistant coach Lawrence Frank of his responsibilities. It was obvious that the team had too many voices they were hearing and Kidd had to establish himself as the main voice in the room. Frank was disrupting that and Kidd killed that noise quickly. Doing that made it easy for the team to follow one voice and ultimately move in one direction together. Kidd may have not reached all the expectations that were placed by some on his team, but he definitely did better than a lot of people expected him to.

Kidd and Rivers were successful, but there is always the other side of the coin that you have to consider. Fisher is a Triangle disciple and will be running that style offense in New York. With the pieces he has, there could be some challenges (especially if Carmelo Anthony does not come back). For a first year head coach, that could provide some big issues. Kurt Rambis found out the hard way that being a Phil Jackson disciple and running the Triangle offense does not guarantee success. Rambis was always known as one of the indispensable parts of the Los Angeles Lakers championship teams. Everyone remembers when he took this foul versus the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals;

Rambis went on to become a coach after his playing days with the Lakers. His stints with the Lakers as a coach included being an assistant under Del Harris (who he replaced in the 1999 lockout season) and under Phil Jackson when the Lakers returned to dominance in the NBA. Rambis’ name became one that was looked at as the hot name in coaching and he almost was the coach of the Sacramento Kings on two occasions (2007 and 2009). But instead of taking those two offers, Rambis decided to take the coaching job offered to him in Minnesota. Rambis was named the head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves on August 8, 2009, after a successful run as assistant coach of the Lakers. He had the likes of Kevin Love and Al Jefferson in his first season as head coach. Even with these two talented big men, Rambis was only able to muster 15 wins. The second season was only two wins better. He had two talented big men that are considered tops in the NBA and did absolutely nothing. He failed to adjust to what talent he had and, coupled with the management not making the smartest decisions, the team looked worse and worse every time they stepped on the court. Even though Rambis had coaching experience, the Triangle did not mystically make this team better. It was evident that Kurt Rambis was in over his head.

One of Kurt’s former teammates also tried his hand at coaching, but with no experience at all. Like Kidd and Fisher, Magic Johnson went into coaching. Magic is one of the greatest players in NBA history. He was 6’9” at the point guard position, which was unheard of in the 80s. He had excellent vision and he was also one heck of a leader. But in 1994, Magic was well into his first retirement from basketball. That season, the Lakers just could not get going under head coach Randy Pfund and he never made it through the season. Magic, at the urging of Jerry Buss, took over as the interim coach at the time. Immediately the buzz came back to the Lakers and some fans even envisioned him bringing Showtime back. The Lakers initially played well under Magic, winning five of their first six games. But the success of the team was short-lived, as Magic and the Lakers ended up losing 10-straight games to end the season. After saying “In the back of my mind, I always wanted to coach”, Magic quickly changed his mind and said “It was never his dream to coach.” It was obvious that Magic was not fit to be the coach. And even though he was a great communicator as a player, he could not reach his team as a coach. The team did not make the playoffs that year but it was not because this team was not talented. They had Vlade Divac and Elden Campbell in the post, along with James Worthy. There was no way they should have finished as bad as they did. Magic is and has been successful in a lot of things he has done in his post-basketball career, but coaching is definitely not one of them. The step from playing to coaching without coaching experience was something that was obviously not a challenge he could tackle.

Fisher’s journey into coaching could be great. He could shock a lot of people and become as good as Doc was. But he could also prove the doubters to be correct and end up like Kurt Rambis minus the coaching experience Rambis has. Either way, the Derek Fisher hiring is much like what Forrest Gump thought about life: a box of chocolates in which you don’t know what you’re going to get.

For more sports talk, feel free to follow me on Twitter @General_MP or check me out on Facebook at Mike Patton-The General .

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  1. Pingback: Five Reasons Carmelo Anthony Will Stay with Knicks - City Sports Report

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