By John Schmeelk
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It would appear that Phil Jackson learned his lesson from the Steve Kerr debacle.
This time he got his man by moving quickly, presenting an overwhelming offer at the start of negotiations with Derek Fisher.
With the same amount of coaching experience as Kerr — and arguably a better leader as a player — Fisher is the perfect fit for Jackson. While he does not have the front-office experience of Kerr, Fisher knows the league extremely well. He’s a young coach that Jackson can mold in his image. He can also help install and run Jackson’s preferred triangle offense.
As Jackson’s first big move as Knicks president, Fisher will be the face of the franchise for the foreseeable future. He’ll be given the opportunity to grow into the job with a contract that’s the same length as Jackson’s (and for $5 million per season). Next year was never going to be a championship-contending season for the Knicks, with or without Carmelo Anthony, and Jackson knew that. Fisher will have a chance to learn a bit, and even the New York media will give the first-time head coach some leeway to make mistakes on the job.
The concept of a fresh start is something Jackson mentioned a short time ago, and it should help give Fisher some time to acclimate to New York. Without a prior coaching record to cite, the media and fan base will be learning about Fisher as they go along with no preconceived bias about the type of coach he is and the caliber of job he can do. Everyone knew Mike D’Antoni was an offensive guy when he got here, and couldn’t wait to pick apart his defensive coaching.
Jason Kidd also helped pave the way for first-year coaches in New York last year with the Nets. Despite a rough start where it looked like the wheels might be coming off, Kidd steadied the ship and the Nets made it to the postseason. All it took was a little time to learn. Fisher also handles the media extremely well, and I would expect him to have a good relationship with them, which will help foster patience in the city that never sleeps.
Some might argue that with mercurial players like J.R. Smith, a strong hand will be needed. The players know that Fisher has the support of Jackson, the man ultimately in charge of the Knicks. They should know, and if they don’t, they’ll find out early that to cross or challenge Fisher would be no different than crossing P-Jax. Fisher will have the authority in that locker room because he will be speaking with Phil Jackson’s voice. It will also help that Fisher is one of the most widely respected players in the NBA today. He is regarded as a great leader and should be able to use those skills as a head coach.
Fisher will certainly develop his own style and voice, but the synergy with Jackson is going to be what will make this partnership work. Many NBA franchises are based around the philosophy and will of the head coach, but for the Knicks it will start in the front office and trickle down. Fisher will communicate and lead in his own way, but it will be in sync with Jackson. He can help teach Fisher how to run practices, handle in game situations and deal with some of the unexpected nuances of coaching. Fisher will not only be learning on the job, but from one of the best coaches in the history of the sport. It’s invaluable for there to be true continuity and a shared vision between the coach and the front office.
The Knicks will have that in spades.
There’s little doubt Fisher’s coaching staff will get filled out by a combination of coaching veterans and up-and-coming youngsters that have connections to both the coach and the president. Kurt Rambis is an obvious choice to help run the triangle and handle of the lot of the pressure of X’s and O’s. Bill Cartwright could help fill a role like that as well, while Luke Walton or someone like Rick Fox could be someone that can learn along with Fisher. It might sicken Lakers haters to see some of those faces on the Knicks’ bench, but it is going to happen one way or another.
Finally, as has been reported elsewhere, Fisher and James Dolan formed a good relationship during lockout negotiations a couple of years ago. Dolan was never a hard-line owner pushing the labor stoppage, so he and Fisher often found common ground on issues. While Dolan is staying out of basketball matters, bringing in someone that has the respect of the owner is never a bad thing.
Will Fisher be the next great Knicks coach? I have no idea. No one does. He could be great. He could be horrible. But he is the guy Jackson thinks can lead this team. That’s all the matters.
This is Jackson’s franchise. And Knicks fans should place their trust in the man with more rings than he has fingers.
Now it’s just a matter of finding out whether that trust was misplaced or not.
– I know a lot of Miami haters are dismayed they won a game in San Antonio, but if the Heat can’t win a game in which LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade combine to shoot 25-for-42 for 67 points, they won’t win any in this series. The Spurs must do a better job defensively on those three and it starts with Kawhi Leonard. He has been in foul trouble in the first two games and hasn’t been able to provide any real resilience to James. He needs to make things harder on the Heat’s megastar without fouling.
– The reason, well one of them, that LeBron is so great is his passing ability. It makes it that much more difficult to run double teams at him since he almost always makes the right play and finds the open man.
– I want to see the Spurs get it to Tim Duncan more inside. No one on Miami can guard him. The Spurs settled for too many jumpers in Game 2.
Follow John on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and the world of sports.
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