There are so, so many things to worry about, if you are a New York Knicks fan, when it comes to the hiring of neophyte coach Derek Fisher. And, even, to a lesser extent, neophyte Knicks President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson. Not only have neither Phil nor Derek worked their current gigs at any previous stop at any level, but both are entering the calamitous world helmed by MSG inheritor James Dolan, who has presided over hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars wasted, alongside seven lost head coaches and just eight playoff game wins since taking on a larger role with the team in the spring of 2001.
Now, according to the New York Post’s Marc Berman, the next batch of active Knicks have a more frustrating impediment to attempt to overcome. It comes in the form of long-winded speeches by a potentially overeager Fisher, attempting to win Game 7 of the NBA Finals (which he’s done before) on a Wednesday evening in November.
Fisher’s speech-making skills are good for dreary lockout meetings and introductory press conferences. But this is what one Thunder insider told me during the conference finals:
“The thing that worries me about Derek as a coach is it’s one thing to give speeches as a player because it’s unique,” the source said. “But the players don’t want to hear long speeches from the coach every day during the season. Players may roll their eyes. Hopefully, Phil will guide him there.’’
One person close to Fisher says admiringly, “He has the ability to talk a lot but not really reveal anything.’’
We don’t know if the Thunder insider or person close to Fisher was an ex-teammate or assistant coach or front office type or even a scout watching from afar or good mate, but this is a fair worry that makes a heap of sense.
It’s a fair worry for any head coach, though, working in a new gig, anxious at the possibilities of treating his new role with the sort of aplomb that suits someone like Fisher that is used to pinning ears to a locker room wall in June, while working during the drudgery of what is a six-month regular season. Derek Fisher, like all rookie coaches, will attempt to inspire a few lost souls during his first few weeks and months on the job, as any rookie coach would do – regardless of their background and experience (or lack thereof) in coaching.
As the insider notes, though, the idea of Phil Jackson guiding “him there” will help. Phil is hardly a cynic, slavish to the idea that coaching an NBA team is but a job above all, and that a loss on Tuesday can be almost immediately rectified a day later against a team looking forward to next season. He does have a sense of pace about him, though.
Jackson is the man that refused to call timeouts, avoiding micromanaging when a learning experience could shake itself out – regardless or not of whether the last attempt at that sort of learning process actually took hold. He could be seen clipping his fingernails on the bench as an underdog Dallas Mavericks team came back to down the favored champion Chicago Bulls in a 1998 contest, he has spoken unendingly about the journey being the reward, and despite some win-now permutations in terms of his rotations with the Los Angeles Lakers, the guy really does value the long-term approach.
(As a Bulls fan, I still recall throwing fits and probably a shoe or two in 1997 when Chicago was facing the hated Miami Heat in a late regular season contest. Not only did Chicago have a chance to score 70 wins for the second straight year, but they were facing a championship contender with designs on downing their chief Chicago rival – we thought it was a statement game.
Jackson went with Jud Buechler for long stretches in that loss as Miami romped, sussing out his options with Jud, Randy Brown, and Bison Dele as the playoffs awaited. Weeks later, with Scottie Pippen sidelined with a foot ailment, Buechler was the all-around second quarter force that helped put the Heat away as they moved onto the Finals. I cannot recall if Jackson clipped his fingernails during either game.)
So, Phil gets it. And better yet, he’ll probably allow Derek Fisher to get it.
Jackson and Fisher do truly want Carmelo Anthony to return as a free agent this July, but both know they’re in the process of a long and arduous rebuilding project, with draft picks and salary cap space set to come next year, and not this summer, and that things won’t live or die on the 2014-15 season – with or without Carmelo.
Phil Jackson didn’t start off his coaching career clipping fingernails; he blistered the ears of more than a few referees as coach in both in the CBA and the Puerto Rican league, and his first few years with the Bulls, so he’ll understand if Fisher needs a year or two to not greet each and every one of those 82 games with a verbal call to arms. The Knicks, with Carmelo or not, are probably punting 2014-15 as they seek out better options.
That’s just fine, as Fisher works as a rookie coach works with wet wingtips. The real question, what with New York’s roster so unshakable at this point, is whether or not Phil Jackson’s coaching patience will carry over to his new front office gig. That’s what makes this new pairing, and not Derek Fisher’s pregame bluster, so intriguing.
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