Give and Go: Examining Knicks' decision to hire Derek Fisher as head coach
Give And Go is a recurring feature in which The Point Forward’s Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney bat an NBA topic du jour back and forth.
This week: Breaking down the Knicks' decision to hire Derek Fisher as coach from all angles.
1. Was Derek Fisher a good hire or a bad hire for the Knicks?
Ben Golliver: Good hire. I advocated for Fisher to the Knicks last month. Tapping Fisher accomplishes one critical goal for the organization: an alignment of principles between the basketball operations department (Phil Jackson) and the coaching staff. It’s incredibly difficult to achieve true success in the NBA without such alignment, even if you’re blessed with a good roster. The Knicks have a horrible roster at this point, so making sure Jackson and his coaching pick will be on the same page when it comes to personnel is an absolute must. Fisher represents this principle to a tee: he’s played for Jackson, he’s played in Jackson’s system, he’s won championships with Jackson and he’s maintained a relationship with Jackson. These guys should hit the ground running together.
I also like the Fisher hire because it’s a flexible move, one that makes sense whether or not franchise forward Carmelo Anthony re-signs with the Knicks. If Anthony is back, Fisher can lean on his experience playing alongside scoring champs Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant to get the most out of Anthony. If Anthony bolts, Fisher has the credibility and personality to lead a weak roster through what could be a multi-year rebuilding effort.
No question: this is a lot of money. When it comes to the contract terms, the money is mostly irrelevant. Given that there’s no coaching salary cap, the only times the money comes up is when coaches are hired and fired. One note, though: I don’t understand why the Knicks weren't willing and able to pay whatever it took to get Steve Kerr (who signed a similar five-year, $25 million contract with the Warriors) if they were willing to shell out the big bucks for Fisher. Jackson rightfully made Kerr his No. 1 priority, and the fact that he was out-negotiated by the Warriors looks a bit worse now that the Knicks backed up the Brinks truck for Fisher. Bottom line, though: there isn’t an obvious, preferable alternative to Fisher, so I think “overpaying” him is better than straggling along without a coach.
Rob Mahoney: It's entirely too early to say. Let's clear up one thing off the top: That Fisher will reportedly sign for five years and $25 million isn't outrageous, largely because it isn't terribly relevant. New York operates in an entirely different financial realm than the rest of the league, making the expenditure itself immaterial for the purposes of anyone not named James Dolan. Beyond that, coach salaries don't have any pertinence to the salary cap or luxury tax. It really doesn't matter how much a coach makes provided that they and the team are satisfied. Fisher's deal wouldn't be made if both parties weren't game.
Otherwise there's not much we can use to judge Fisher as a potential hire. I will say that I'm skeptical of the likely adoption of the triangle offense, which has failed in every one of its iterations not to feature Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. Perhaps Carmelo Anthony could be established as an adequate anchor within the system, though first the Knicks will need to sell Melo on the idea of either waiving his early termination option or re-signing with the team outright. Apart from the trouble of securing a superstar, the triangle is a tough system to fill for the passing it requires from frontcourt positions. The current roster comes up painfully short in that regard; neither Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Amar'e Stoudemire nor Andrea Bargnani have much passing aptitude, making the word of a first-year coach installing a challenging system all the more difficult. Best of luck with Fish, who will have his work cut out for him.
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2. Does Fisher help/hurt New York's chances to keep Carmelo?
Golliver: Helps. I’m not sure that it helps a ton, but Fisher’s hire proves that Jackson meant what he said during his opening press conference about establishing a certain type of culture, and it shows that Jackson has the ability to make a deal. The first piece of that wasn’t hugely in question, but it was going to remain an unknown until Jackson made his first real move. The second piece was certainly in question after the Kerr dalliance. It might be going too far to say that this hire counts as a “reassurance” for Anthony of Jackson’s abilities as a first-time president, but Fisher’s arrival doesn’t hurt. At the very least, it sets a course for the franchise, and Anthony can now decide whether he wants in or out.
Mahoney: Probably helps. That likely depends on what Anthony thinks of the Jackson regime change more broadly. Fisher is a bright, charismatic coaching candidate and has been tabbed as a coach-to-be since his days with the Lakers. In this case, though, he's largely an extension of Jackson. He's been hired by the Knicks because he has long-lasting personal and professional relationships with Jackson, will be receptive to Jackson's ideas and will run Jackson's system of choice. His coaching staff will reportedly be stocked with other Jackson favorites, from Kurt Rambis to Luke Walton. How Anthony feels about that bigger picture remains to be seen, and likely won't be much swayed by Fisher's specific hiring. Were it Kerr or Walton or any other Jackson favorite in this post, the underlying dynamic would likely be the same.
The question then becomes: What does Anthony make of a team shaped fully by Jackson? He's an all-time great coach with loads of basketball wisdom to impart, though he also is stepping into a managerial role for the very first time. Anthony could hardly be blamed for any trepidation in terms of trusting Jackson to feel his way through the baroque rules involved in team management, particularly with the possibility of further interference from Dolan looming. Perhaps Jackson will have enough help around him (current GM Steve Mills or otherwise) to comb through the details while he attends to the bigger picture, though even then Melo would be trusting the next few years of his career to a first-time executive bouncing out of semi-retirement.
3. Aside from Carmelo, what's the first thing that Fisher needs to address in his new role?
Mahoney: The day-to-day process of running a team. Fisher knows the triangle and clearly has a knack for leadership. What he doesn't yet know -- and can't fully until he steps into this new role -- is how exactly to go about orchestrating everything from coaches' meetings to film sessions to game planning and more. Jackson should be invaluable in terms of getting Fisher up to speed on those practical matters, though he'll also need to figure out where he feels comfortable breaking away from Jackson's formula and establishing his own routines.
Golliver: Manage expectations. There’s no escaping the headlines when you’re in New York, especially as a first-time Knicks head coach, but Fisher is an excellent wordsmith and he projects himself as a very likable guy. He should lean on those communication strengths, which he displayed throughout the lockout as National Basketball Players Association president, to clearly state realistic goals for the Knicks in the short-term. With or without Anthony, this roster is years away — or multiple major moves away — from contending for a championship. Using the “rebuilding” word could be a tough sell in the Big Apple, but Fisher does need to find a way to protect his players from the hype that comes with inflated expectations.
4. Which Fisher match-up are you most excited to see next season?
Golliver: Lakers. I fully expect Kobe Bryant to be on a mission next year, and I also fully expect the Lakers to be terrible. We’ve seen that combination play out before, and it usually ends with some amazing shot-jacking from Bryant. I can’t wait for the first Knicks/Lakers game — surely it will be on Christmas or some other high-profile television slot — just to see how many points Bryant tries to run up on his old buddy Fisher. I’m not totally convinced Bryant will be able to get back to his 40-point or 50-point explosive scoring ability following his Achilles and knee injuries. I am convinced, though, that if anyone was going to be a victim of such an onslaught, it would be his longtime running buddy. Conversely, it will be fun to see what tricks Fisher has up his sleeve in slowing down one of the greatest scorers in league history.
Mahoney: Nets. Oddly enough, I'm looking forward to the next installment of Knicks v. Nets with Fisher at the helm. Those matchups always come laced with a little something extra -- a mixed crowd, words exchanged, and a certain feistiness throughout. On top of that, we now have the mirror of Fisher and Nets head coach Jason Kidd. Like Fisher, Kidd jumped straight off of an NBA roster (New York's, actually) to the head of another team's bench. He did an admirable job in his first year in Brooklyn, and now Fisher will aim to do the same despite all of the pressure and extracurricular ridiculousness that comes with working for a New York-based sports team.
Fisher might not fundamentally change anything about the Knicks-Nets semi-rivalry, but he does have some ties along the way as a former teammate of Deron Williams and two-time Finals opponent of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce (should he return in free agency). That's enough to pique my interest, particularly when there isn't anything too juicy in Fisher coaching against a Thunder team that did right by him or a Lakers team that bears little resemblance to the one for whom he played 13 seasons.
5. Which current NBA player would make the best coach?
Mahoney: Ray Allen. I love Allen's dedication to his craft and trust that his first-in-the-gym mentality would be infectious. Players will go to work for a fully committed coach a la Tom Thibodeau and Erik Spoelstra; it means something when a player knows that his coach is burning the midnight oil to prepare the team as best he can. Allen wouldn't likely tilt into a Thibodeauian work-life imbalance, though he has always taken his basketball responsibilities very seriously. With that comes an air of authority. Allen's teammates revere him and opponents respect him, both for reasons that go deeper than his continued excellence as a player. He's sharp, he understands angles and spacing as well as any player in the game and he has the presence to command a locker room. What's not to like?
Golliver: Steve Nash. I’m probably picking an obvious name here by going with an aging, cerebral point guard, but those qualities have been sought out by teams over and over again when it comes to filling coaching jobs. I envision Nash as a Mike D’Antoni disciple, capable of translating his feel and vision into an unpredictable, high-powered and entertaining offense. Just make sure he comes packaged with the right defensive coordinator.
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