The good news for the New York Knicks? They ended the regular season on a four-game winning streak. The bad news for the Knicks? They haven’t played since April 16 thanks to an 82-game spread of bad luck, shoelace thievery and all-around lethargic basketball associated with the franchise in the post-Patrick Ewing era.*
Yet, somehow, between the NBA Finals and Donald Sterling changing his mind for the 87th time since the tapes leaked confirming he will, indeed, wage war on Adam Silver’s NBA, here stand the Knicks. Relevant. In the news.
Derek Fisher is set to become the Knicks’ new head coach – the eighth since Jeff Van Gundy left in 2001 – signing a five-year deal worth a reported $25M.** As in the same Derek Fisher who’s season just ended as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs. And as in the same Derek Fisher who captured NBA titles alongside Phil Jackson in 2000-2002, 2009 and 2010. The hire wasn’t much of a shock as Fisher’s name had been linked to the job even before OKC’s season ended (thus birthing the tampering fines).
But what does the move mean? From a guy about seven hours south of Manhattan? With absolutely no ties to the Knicks outside of catching the train at Penn Station every time I head to the Big Apple? Well, I’m glad you asked.
Learn As You Go
Per ESPN’s Stats & Information, these are five NBA coaches who had no coaching experience whatsoever prior to day one one the job along with their first season’s records.
Larry Bird (58-24)
Doc Rivers (41-41)
Mark Jackson (23-43)
Jason Kidd (44-38)
Steve Kerr (remains to be seen)
Bird came this close to ruining a Bulls three peat in 1998 by losing Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. The Pacers lost by five in a game that saw Indy hold Jordan and Pippen to 15-for-43 shooting. The Pacers would’ve won, too, had it not been for 16 missed free throws. Bird made it back to the East finals the next season and by 2000 was in the Finals.
Rivers won Coach of the Year his first season on the job in Orlando. Jackson’s last season in Golden State notched 51 wins in a packed West and allegedly lost his job because of a toxic relationship with ownership. And somehow, Kidd managed to turn the Nets into the hottest team in the East this past season for damn-near a four-month stretch.
If Derek Fisher duplicates half of any of these guys success in his first year (minus Jackson, technically), he’ll more than have earned his projected $5M. Then again, that “if” is about as big as Terio these days.
The Rebuilding Process And Carmelo Anthony
Google “Derek Fisher hired Knicks” and most of the columns circulate around Phil Jackson’s decision to hire his former point guard being a risky one. It is, but in a boatload of ways, that’s besides the point.
Coaching the Knicks is hazardous because of the unrealistic immediate expectations often times associated with the gig. Which is why whoever the coach and/or star player is that deliver a title to Madison Square Garden between next season and the year 2089, they may literally become emperors of the city. Like actual emperors with their face on train cards (or MetroCards as they’re officially called) and currency. The whole nine.
But, shit, if you’re Fisher, why not take $25M to mediate a dumpster fire for a season or two. Obviously, the most important (and perhaps only) question facing the Knicks now is Carmelo Anthony’s future. Fisher with Carmelo at his services next year isn’t going to mean much from a championship contending perspective, despite the production CA7 amassed in an otherwise lost season.
Fisher without Carmelo and we’re talking – puts on conspiracy theorist tin foil hat – a tank job of iconic proportions with JR Smith getting 20 shots a night, finally seeing some sort of financial flexibility in the summer of 2015 with Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani all off the books, coasting to the top overall pick in 2015 (because that’s one pick they do still have) and selecting Jahlil Okafor or Cliff Alexander as the new face of the franchise next June.
Phil Jackson, A Friend’s Friend
The Steve Kerr chase fell through, but he ended up with Fisher anyway. Bill Cartwright, Kurt Rambis, Jim Cleamons, Luke Walton and Ron Harper are all said to be candidates for the staff.
I’m not even sure this means much in the long run. And there’s a chance we could all look back on Phil’s stint in New York a decade from now as failed experiment. That said, smart or not, no one can ever say Phil didn’t try to look out for his people.
* – If nothing else though, at least we got this sweet J.R. Smith photo gallery out of the deal.
** – Off the rip, Fisher’s set to earn more money next year than both Rick Carlisle and Erik Spoelstra.