The New York Knicks introduced Derek Fisher as their new head coach today at the team's practice facility in Greenburgh, NY. The franchise's 26th leading man touched on an array of topics during his introductory press conference, but for the sake of brevity, I'll list only a few of the heavy-hitters here: contrary to popular belief, Fish did not accept a position with the Knicks just to chill hardcore with his buddy, Phil Jackson -- he took the job because he actually wants to coach; evidently he first started preparing to transition from NBA player to NBA head coach when he was 6 years old; and after generically summarizing New York City's history as a symbol of freedom and opportunity for immigrants, he artfully wove his own family's journey from Oklahoma City to Westchester into the fabric of that legacy.
Tongue now removed from cheek, Fish actually impressed me when he preemptively addressed his rookie status as a head coach with the media:
"There will obviously be a lot of talk about my inexperience as a head coach and that is obviously factually true: I have not been a head coach in the NBA or college or high school. But I am experienced. Basketball is a game that I am experienced in playing, understanding, leading in, guiding in. [I have experience] helping a group of people achieve the greatest gift in the world as a professional athlete -- and that's being a champion. That I have experience in. And that's the experience that I plan on sharing with these players and sharing with this organization."
Full disclosure: Fish used to be my least favorite player in the NBA (Kendrick Perkins supplanted him this season once Fish started knocking down his threes and after advanced stats confirmed what I already knew to be true -- Perk is the worst). Throughout his career, Fish played below-average defense, shot the ball way too often considering the talent around him and consistently finished layups awkwardly or, more often, not at all.
Of course, none of that matters now. And after listening to him talk today (and knowing his reputation around the league as a great leader) I was impressed by his demeanor and his process-driven approach to building a winner. Hard as it is for me to say it -- considering the Knick's legacy of futility under Dolan and due to my personal disdain for Fish as a player (the only Fish I know) -- I'm cautiously optimistic about the team's chances under this new regime.
But all is not well in Gotham: Carmelo Anthony's status is still up in the air (if he does sign, the team's 2015 cap space is gone, if he doesn't, they're without a star) and on top of that, the Knicks don't have a draft pick this year. Seemingly, the team's only options are "bad" and "worse."
During these trying summer months, Knicks fans need something to look forward to, something to hold onto. To provide relief, I've highlighted three quotes from Fish's press conference in the hope of giving hope to the New York faithful:
- Fish spoke at length about how he wants to create a winning, championship-caliber organization in New York: "I look forward to the opportunity to now to bring myself and my family into the family of New York City and try and help us all accomplish something that is very rare in professional sports and that's to operate and do business at a level of excellence and [to create] a culture of success that we all hold each other accountable to on a daily basis. That's who we will become, that's who we are and it's here, it exists here."
- In order to create a winning culture, Coach Fisher (that doesn't sound half bad!) needs consistent focus and effort from his players every single day (something the team lacked last season): "We will be committed to being the best. And our players will understand that and that's what we're going to get back to. That is the bar that we will set again within this team and within this organization. That's why I'm here...to be a part of that process."
- And he understands what the Knicks mean to New York -- how the streets of this basketball-city buzz when New Yorkers have a team worth cheering for: "All I've heard about is how special this city can be when the Knicks are winning and the Knicks are playing well and the city's proud and the energy is high. I've experienced that on the West coast and I'm looking forward to experiencing it on the East coast."
Maybe Fish can actually do this and help the Knicks win their first title in over forty years. When Fisher played, he possessed the skill set of a reserve, yet the best players in the game -- Kobe, Shaq, Durant, Westbrook -- all respected him and considered him a leader. In Kevin Durant's now famous MVP speech in which he praised each of his teammates individually, after briefly mentioning that Hasheem Thabeet's small pants make him smile, Durant singled out Fisher and spoke about him at length:
"Or I can see Fish, just a button-up like a mayor, like a president. Just demands so much from his teammates, has played with so many great players but still respects everybody. He's 38 years old - nothing else to prove - I said, 'Fish, you want to come get some shots with me?' First thing he says is 'yes' because he always wants to learn even though he's done so much in this league, played with so many great players. He always wants to learn and that motivated me to know that it's never a point where you can stop getting better. He's the guy that made me realize that."
Even with his on-court play diminished due to age, OKC signed Fisher for the exact same reason KD admired him: because he set an example with his work ethic and was, as the saying goes, a great locker room guy -- always willing to mentor the next generation of players. The Knicks faltered last season because they didn't have any of the veteran leaders from their 2012-13 Atlantic Division Champion squad in their clubhouse anymore.
And New York missed one of those old guys more than all the others: Jason Kidd. Both Kidd and Fish are former championship-winning point guards that took jobs as head coaches about an hour after retiring and both possessed even-keeled demeanors as floor generals (and Kidd continues to be steady under fire as a coach).
Fish may have learned Zen from the Master or maybe he possesses such a calm temperament intrinsically (as J-Kidd seems to). Either way, Fish said all the right things today and sounded like a Jackson-disciple. I just hope he can coach half as well -- shoot, I'll take a quarter as well -- as his mentor and friend. If he does, that would mean the Knicks win 2.75 rings -- except for the impossibility of winning three-quarters of a championship, that sounds fine to me.