We should have known something was up some 20 years ago, when Derek Fisher was pairing with fellow-rookie Kobe Bryant and making a name for himself despite entering the league as a lower-rung draft pick out of University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Soon enough we’ll be taking a deep dive on 1996-97 teammate Travis Knight, also a rookie during that campaign.
The clamor for content doesn’t end with the reports of a burglary at Fisher’s house, possibly costing him (hopefully, however briefly) the five NBA championship rings he earned with the Lakers. At this point, despite working as an analyst for Laker games in Los Angeles, Fisher still feels like more of a Knick than anything, the by-product of an at-times bizarre interview he gave with Kevin Ding at Bleacher Report recently.
In it, New York’s head coach from 2014-15 through Feb. 8 2016 talked about the youthful indiscretions that influenced him to join the Knicks all of 32 months ago, when Fisher was 39. When Phil Jackson made the call just a few months after taking over in New York, his former Laker was quick to hop on the idea that Derek Fisher, Thirtysomething NBA Head Coach, could work out:
“When we’re young, sometimes we’re quick to go after the first or the newest or the shiniest opportunity that is in front of us, because we don’t quite know any better,” Fisher said of the Knicks.
“The prettiest girl, the shiniest car, the best-looking house. Then once we open the door and walk inside the house, we realize the walls aren’t painted, the foundation’s cracked, the plumbing is leaking in the backyard and the pool is about to collapse.”
The Knicks collapsed under Fisher, to the tune of a 40-96 record as head coach, just as they have under first-year New York coach Jeff Hornacek this season, with a win-now collection of talents middling along at 21-28 in what has become yet another embarrassing year for the Eastern Conference.
Hornacek only took over after president Phil Jackson was talked out of hiring friend and failed Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis for the head job, an unconscionable move considering Rambis’ stint with the Timberwolves and his 9-19 turn as Knicks interim head coach.
Judging by the Bleacher Report feature, Fisher appears to be taking some sort of solace in the team’s trials since Jackson fired him fifty-one weeks ago:
“We were able to take a team that wasn’t as talented as the team they have now, and we were much better and much further along than this group is that they have now,” Fisher said. “Because the foundation was being laid.”
It would be kind of us to recognize that Fisher and his “foundation” were of paramount importance, and that the 2016-17 Knicks have underachieved (to those who think the sort of rotation that Jackson has constructed could function, at least) with a win-now roster plus Kristaps Porzingis …
“I know what we deposited into Kristaps Porzingis that is coming out this year. He isn’t where he is now by himself. He deserves all the credit, but what we were helping him do for himself—that matters.”
… but Fisher’s rotations weren’t exactly made up of babes in the woods, either. His last game as Knicks coach featured Porzingis but also the then-34 and 30-year old Jose Calderon and Arron Afflalo in the same backcourt alongside the maxed-out contract of Carmelo Anthony and Robin Lopez in his prime.
Not exactly a barnburner, we submit, but it’s hard to find a “foundation” once you look at that lineup and the bench help (vets Langston Galloway, Derrick Williams and Jackson favorite Sasha Vujavic) that followed. Fisher’s 2015-16 Knicks may not have been as blatantly “win-now” as Jeff Hornacek’s current version, but they weren’t far off.
“That’s different than just trying to coach basketball — and it takes longer. That’s the part that you can’t measure in wins and losses, either. That’s what we were doing the best at.”
It’s good to try to find significant measure in things that go beyond wins and losses, especially when one’s team loses so much.
Hornacek, stuck in the maelstrom, offered this in response on Tuesday:
“There are enough analysts, reporters that always like to talk about what shoulda, coulda, what they did. So we don’t pay much attention to that.”
“Whatever he did last year, he had a year and half here, his relationship with Phil whatever it was… I don’t (know),” Hornacek said. “Again, this is a new year. Everything is new. Again, he may have thought he did something with that team from last year. I’m not concerned about that. I don’t think our guys are.”
Frank Isola at the New York Daily News relayed Hornacek’s thoughts on criticizing active coaches from afar, as Fisher seemed to do:
“I wouldn’t do it,” he added. “I don’t think a lot of other guys would do it. But certain guys would.”
We don’t want to paint Jeff Hornacek as some sort of victim, nor an “aw, shucks” buttress to build a column on. With that in place, the backgrounds between the two Phil Jackson hires are rather different.
Fisher was a star by proxy right away, joining Shaquille O’Neal’s Lakers and partnering with Kobe Bryant for years. When he left Los Angeles, it was as one of the more noted free agent pulls (by the Golden State Warriors) of the 2004 offseason. When he wanted out of Utah a few years later to help care for his ailing daughter, his release from the Jazz and re-signing with Jackson’s Lakers was national sports news, an NBA argument that leaves most uneasy in discussing to this day.
His trade from the Lakers was a loud one, as was his brief dalliance with the Dallas Mavericks. After absolutely no time off from the league as a player, he hopped on as a rookie coach with the team in the NBA’s least-bashful city. The Matt Barnes Incident is still a thing.
Jeff Hornacek was the other guy in the trade that sent Charles Barkley to Philadelphia, where he went on to star for a terrible and anonymous 76ers team before being dealt to Utah to act as the other guy alongside John Stockton in the Utah backcourt. More attention was paid to his thankless role in defending Michael Jordan in the 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals than his All-Star-level qualities as a hybrid guard, his outside touch or his derring-do on drives to the goal (if not the rim).
When Hornacek was fired by the Phoenix Suns as head coach just a week before Derek Fisher was let go by the Knicks, just under two years after surprisingly leading the team to 47 wins, little was said about the Suns or any other coach by Hornacek in the four months off between his firing and hiring by the Knicks.
Not because Jeff Hornacek doesn’t want to talk trash like the “other guys” do. It’s because nobody wants to ask an ex-Phoenix Suns coach about the Suns. Nobody wants to ask anything about the Phoenix Suns. Nobody is lining up to click on and read a Lindsey Hunter profile, despite Lindsey’s similarities to Derek Fisher’s time in office.
Opportunities present themselves to Fisher in ways that Jeff Hornacek can’t relate to. This doesn’t excuse Derek Fisher for discussing the state of the 2016-17 Knicks under Hornacek on record, but it does help to note the difference before moving on to conclude that Derek Fisher, really, should just back off here.
Yes, Jeff Hornacek is being paid quite a bit of money (a reported $15 million over three years) to put up with this, but Derek Fisher of all people should know that the head coach of the New York Knicks could probably do without the piling on from afar.
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