At 11:30 Tuesday morning, the Derek Fisher era began, the Fisher era being a substratum of the Phil Jackson era.
(Does it seem like Phil was more irritated by the Fisher tampering fine than you'd expect him to be? You'd think Zen Phil just lets it roll right off his back, but he was defiant to the press about it and brought it up again here. A little vinegar in Uncle Phil. Nothing wrong with that.)
Having a concrete and potentially sustainable management partnership is, by Knick standards of late, confetti-worthy. It feels like they're moving in the right direction. They now have an organizational face in Phil. They have symbols of hope, both in the short term (Carmelo) and the long (cap space + #Mecca). They have a shiny new coach, their first first-timer since Jeff The Rodeo Rochesterian and more evidence of the new hiring trend (more than half this year's playoff teams were led by first-time coaches).
Still, it's hard to feel safely removed from the bizarre with this team involved (note MSG Network's non-ironic current slogan = ‘It's Different Here'). Early in the press conference, Steve Mills was talking and a graphic appeared underneath announcing Fisher as the new coach...only Mills was on-camera. For a while. So it looked like he was being announced as the new coach; plus, Fisher was wearing a purple shirt (way to convince NY you're over LA!) and a green tie, enough to set off anybody's inner Bat-signal; plus #Knicks, so...anything's possible.
Fisher sounded far less dogmatic regarding the Triangle than what much of the pre-hire gossip suggested. It's unclear if he plans to run it as the primary system or use it as a change-up. Quoth Fish: "There are ways to play basketball within the Triangle that don't make it outmoded or outdated...we have to do what is best for our players. We believe right now it could be the triangle. It may not be." Got it? Don't got it? Don't matter. Fish gets it. Fish is ready. How ready? Phil says he's "hip-hop ready to get going with this group of guys and their language." Hear that? Yeah, East is big. But FISH IS HIP-HOP READY. This cracked him and Mills up, by the way (check the 3:40 mark).
The last time the Knicks hired a coach, after 2011-12, it seemed losing in the 1st round and being willing to fire your agent were the only job requirements. Mike Woodson was retained without the Knicks ever even talking to another candidate. There is symmetry here, with the organization again seeming to rush to secure a not-overwhelming candidate without ever bothering to check in with proven alternatives, a rush that began with the failed Steve Kerr pursuit.
But there's a significant asymmetry between then and now: the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Zen.
With no track record as a capo and little roster flexibility this offseason, everything the Knicks do right now boils down to In Phil We Trust. When asked what he saw in Fisher the player that convinced him Fisher the coach will succeed, Jackson referenced Fisher's "ability...to speak the truth from what the sense of the group was" and how he "sublimated his own role to help the team along." These characteristics came up a lot today, but that didn't diminish their novelty. When's the last time a Knick coaching hire was praised for these reasons? Doesn't that sound like what this team needed last year? How often did the conversation around the team seem to be at odds with reality? How often has that schism felt like a fundamental issue with them in recent history? When was the last time a Knick coach sublimated? By comparison, Phil sounds like Fisher can walk on water-- or could when he was younger, pre-OKC.
There was talk of Fisher's union experience further assuring the players will respect him. This doesn't really compute. If the NBA players are apparently always losing CBA disputes, how was Fisher's experience leading a losing labor conflict a good thing? Steve Mills talked about this, but rubbing some Mills on it is just a placebo. You gotta get all Zen up in there.
Fisher presented a united front regarding Carmelo's status, saying he won't try to "convince him or change his mind from maybe a decision he's already made, but really just help give him some confidence that with the personalities involved and our commitment to working hard to achieve a certain level of success, that this is a place where he can have what it is he wants." This seems kinda well-played by the Knicks, given they have no leverage. Still. Opt in this year or opt out, they seem to be saying. Good for them.
At one point during the hiring process, he said he labeled Fisher a "person of interest." Only Phil Jackson can use the term "person of interest" and sound non-ominous. Nonominous.
I also love Phil's veerings. He's addressing a room full of people and millions at home (is millions overestimating it?), but when he greets Fisher's family it's like they're the only ones there. He veers a bit later, too, when schooling Trautwig on his geography Xs-and-Os.
FIsher was likable. You can tell he and Phil are simpatico. And there is a leaderish-y quality around him. Lots of times at press conferences announcing hirings, you see the guy up there and you just know he's not the guy who's gonna win. Fisher seems not only like he could be a winner, but that he can teach others to win. His take on the Triangle was probably the most newsmaking moment of the conference. Even after this hiring, the Knick future is so up-in-the-air there aren't many specifics to offer, but his flexible approach to the question of systems was typical of the openness he displayed throughout and hints at his best-case scenario.
Derek Fisher presented himself as a guy whose focus is not offense or defense, but people, a guy who'll adjust his style to his personnel instead of the other way around. That was the hallmark of Phil's coaching success (besides the whole MJ/Scottie/Shaq/Kobe thing): putting players in positions to succeed. The feeling today is that Fisher will do the same.