A week from today will mark four years since Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson won their fifth NBA championship together with the Los Angeles Lakers. Now, the two have rejoined forces but in a different area code.
Today, Fisher was introduced as the head coach of the New York Knicks alongside team President Jackson and general manager Steve Mills. The tandem of Fisher and Jackson, who have a combined 16 NBA titles, will attempt to lead the Knicks to a championship and end a drought that is 41 years long and counting.
Fisher, 39, will make the transition from player to coach as Jason Kidd did last season when he retired from the Knicks and immediately became coach of the Brooklyn Nets. Fisher was a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder team that lost in six games to the San Antonio Spurs in this year’s Western Conference Finals.
Fisher, like Kidd, has no prior coaching experience but he does have 5 titles on his resume and 18 years as a player in the NBA.
“I am experienced,” Fisher said Tuesday. “Basketball is a game that I am experienced in playing, understanding, leading in, guiding in, helping another group of people achieve the greatest gift in the world as a professional athlete, and that’s being a champion.”
Fisher will be counting on help from Jackson in his first year as coach to help him transition into the job. Jackson is clearly qualified to help his former point guard in that aspect, but the experience Fisher has as a leader may be the most important thing he brings to the job.
“I look forward to this as much as I have anything in life,” Fisher said. “I am taking a tremendous amount of pride in coming here and doing my job…This is not for Phil and I to just hang out as friends, this is to go to work, get our job done and we want to add banners to this ceiling.”
In addition to his leadership qualities Fisher has been praised in the past by his teammates, most notably Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant, for his role in the locker room.
Bryant has called Fisher one of his “all-time favorite teammates” in the past. This means a lot coming from Bryant, who once told his former teammate Smush Parker that he was not allowed to talk to him because he did not have enough accolades.
Durant, when asked about Fisher potentially coaching said, “He’s a great motivator, great speaker and can really relate to a lot of guys and demands that respect from everybody. He’s a great locker-room guy. I’m sure he’ll do a great job.”
Fisher has also been involved with the NBA Players Association during his career and led the players through the most recent lockout two years ago.
Fisher’s leadership qualities will not make up for his lack of coaching experience, but building relationships and motivating your players is just as important. A positive for Fisher is that the Knicks are not expected to contend next year, so he will be able to learn with tempered expectations.
Ultimately, Fisher’s fate will be determined by the players the Knicks are able to acquire when they have cap space in 2015, not to mention whether they are able to re-sign Carmelo Anthony this offseason.
Who knows? Could Fisher’s relationship with former teammate Durant entice the league MVP to come to the Big Apple when he is a free agent in 2016? That remains to be seen, but from his words today, the guard from Little Rock, Arkansas seems prepared for the big challenge ahead.