By John Schmeelk
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We heard a lot from Derek Fisher, Phil Jackson and Steve Mills during the head coach’s first day on the job.
1. Derek Fisher is smart. And I don’t mean basketball-player smart. I also don’t mean basketball-coach smart. This guy is executive-businessman smart. His five-plus minute opening statement, which appeared unscripted, told me all I needed about the intellect of the Knicks’ new coach. He spoke not only from the heart, but also very thoughtfully, and you can tell he thinks about the game on a different level than most players. Jackson is also a deep thinker, and their combined approach will help the Knicks navigate this retooling process patiently and responsibly. It will also help him navigate all the other things that go along with coaching the Knicks, including dealing with the media. He wasn’t fazed for a second on his first day.
2. As a player that wasn’t very gifted physically, Fisher mentioned how he had to outwork and out-think his opponents in order to succeed. The Knicks have had a severe lack of both those things on the court the last few seasons. The effort was never there consistently on defense, and they often did dumb things at the end of games.
3. Those are likely two of tge things Fisher was referring to when he spoke about how he could make the Knicks much better next year, even with the same roster. The Knicks’ defense was flawed in so many ways, and Fisher no doubt thinks he can fix that. When asked by Mike Francesca what one key tenet of his coaching approach would be, Fisher answered that there was never an excuse for letting the opposing team work harder than you. To me, that translates to defense. When asked about the triangle offense at the press conference, one of the first things Fisher mentioned was that he thought the defense would be that much better if the triangle produced higher-percentage shots.
4. He also mentioned the word “efficient” many times over the course of the press conference. To say the Knicks’ shot selection — ahem, J.R. Smith, ahem — was suspect last year would be fair. Fisher knows the team must play smarter on offense and get better shots through team play, which leads to better things.
5. Fisher also mentioned during more than one interview that he would not be married to the triangle offense. He said he thought it would fit this group of players well, but then added that they would run whatever offense works best with the players. Fisher played in the triangle in LA, in a run and gun system in Golden State, in Jerry Sloan’s motion offense, and in a more modern isolation-pick and roll system in Oklahoma City. He has seen a lot and will be able to apply all those tenets to whatever system he decides fits the Knicks best. In another interview, he mentioned that he respected how Gregg Popovich has adjusted his style to keep the Spurs competitive, and how that ability is something to be respected. I do have little doubt, however, that the triangle will be the first choice.
6. When asked about his coaching style, Fisher talked about how he would coach players based on their personalities to try to reach each guy on an individual basis. It makes sense, but based on his intensity as a player, and the look in his eye when talking about the job, I have very little doubt Fisher will fall more into the “disciplinary” coaching category than “player’s coach” category. He said he will set a plan out for players and then they will have to decide to commit, buy in and give maximum effort. The unsaid part of that is that if a player chooses not to do those things, they will be out the door.
7. Fisher mentioned during the press conference that he never spoke to James Dolan during this process, and I believe it. For the most part, I believe Dolan was not involved in the nitty-gritty part of this hire. But one thing Mills said is almost unfathomable. Mills said that he saw Dolan at the Rangers game the night before, and they didn’t even talk about the Knicks’ hire of Fisher or Tuesday’s press conference. I think he doth protest too much. To think something as important as hiring the Knicks’ new head coach wasn’t even discussed is one step too far. The Garden REALLY wants people to think that Dolan is leaving Jackson alone. Hopefully that’s the truth.
8. It would appear the Knicks’ staff is going to be comprised of a good mix of veterans who can help teach Fisher the ropes, and some younger coaches that can grow along with him. If I had to predict, the staff will be comprised of Kurt Rambis, Bill Cartwright, Luke Walton, Ron Harper and Rick Fox. Knicks fans don’t like a lot of those names and faces but they will have to deal with it.
9. It’s pretty obvious the Knicks have no idea what Carmelo Anthony is going to do. But I believe they have mentally prepared themselves for the possibility he will leave and are ready to move on if need be. I don’t think this hire will affect Melo’s decision one way or another. If he thinks the Knicks give him the best chance to win as quickly as possible he’ll stay. If he doesn’t, he’ll leave. It’s that simple.
10. I feel much better about the Fisher hire after hearing him speak. Often times, players-turned-coaches will just spout cliches and speak without really saying anything. I’m looking at you Jason Kidd, and Mark Jackson (to a lesser extent). It’s clear Fisher is something different, and maybe something special. I’ll go out on a limb and predict he will coach all five years of his current contract.
Follow John on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and the world of sports.
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