Knicks fans were going to be skeptical no matter who was hired to coach their team. In part because they’re New Yorkers and are skeptical of everything. In part it was because there was always the inkling of hope the $12 million a year Phil Jackson is getting paid meant he was going to coach New York, too.
That was never going to happen, Jackson is done behind the bench. He said that again on Tuesday at Derek Fisher’s introductory press conference.
What Jackson is really getting $12 million a year to do is change the culture of the Knicks — this was an organization focused too much on right now, not on patience and not on sacrifice. Draft picks were moved for quick fixes, guys that got on the court and aged quickly. Jackson needed someone who could preach the triangle and ball movement, who could sell the team-first concept. Jackson is trying to change the Knicks culture in basketball operations top to bottom.
Which is where Derek Fisher is a good hire as coach in New York.
Yes, Fisher is a gamble, but a smart one to take. More than any other quality Jackson needed someone with the same philosophies, someone he fully trusted to be his extension on the court. Jackson was never coming down to the sidelines, but he needed someone who understood and could be evangelical about his philosophies. Fisher has bought into what Phil Jackson is selling, and now it is his turn to sell them on a team-first system, on sharing, moving off the ball — you know, like those two teams still playing do.
Fisher commands respect and can lead — he can walk into that room and talk about sacrificing parts of your game to make the team better. He can talk about playing within the system. He can cite examples from Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal and Kevin Durant and a host of other great players. He can show you the rings that it brings.
This gambe works whatever Carmelo Anthony decides to do next season. If he stays, to win the Knicks need Anthony to sacrifice parts of his game — to move the ball quickly and not have it stick, to be a good defender. Fisher knows about that. He can point to Kobe and others when he uses examples. If Anthony decides to bolt for wherever, Fisher can be part rebuilding the structures of this team on the court into a triangle unit.
Fisher can lead. They will put assistant coaches around him who can help with the Xs and Os, who can show Fisher how to properly set up a film session or the host of other little details that come with being an NBA coach. What Fisher can do is get people to listen to him and follow him.
Can Fisher coach? We will find out. If not he can be replaced in a couple years with someone who can. The money he is paid — $5 years, $25 million — can be shocking but it’s a pittance for the Knicks organization. The Knicks print money, spending it like this doesn’t matter to them like it does to 29 other teams.
What Fisher can do is lead. What Fisher does is buy into everything Phil Jackson is selling. He can get the players to buy in.
He can start to change the culture of the Knicks on the court.
And that is what Phil Jackson needed more than anything else.
That is why Derek Fisher was a good hire.
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