The Knicks' recent run of quality play has coincided rather dramatically with head coach Derek Fisher's decision to trim the rotation. It seemed obvious to many fans -- on this site, on Twitter, or perhaps even in a certain drinking establishment on Houston St. -- that Fisher was playing too many guys, at semi-random intervals, and that is was hurting the team's competitiveness.
To his credit, Fisher fixed the rotation problem, which stemmed partially from his inability to relegate certain players to the bench, according to an interview with Chris Herring:
"I'm just more comfortable not worrying about whether someone's going to be pissed off if I don't put them in a game, and knowing that it's not personal, or about trying to protect someone's feelings," Fisher said. "I'm just trying to do what I think is best to win a game."
You should read the entire piece -- lots of fun stats about various coaching adjustments Fisher has made -- but I want to focus on this quote. Too often we fans look at players more like pieces on a chessboard rather than actual human bros. These guys all wanna play! And the fallout from benching certain players goes way beyond hurt feelings -- there is the potential for disruption in the locker room, all sorts of behind-the-scenes noise from agents, and all that stuff we never see. Any good coach has to deal with that, it's true, but we should at least try to keep in mind that it's a more complicated balancing act than it appears on TV.
For all his growing pains as a play-caller, Fisher's positive, egalitarian coaching style came as a breath of fresh air last season. Remember the brazen, inexplicable player-coach tension which marked the end of the Mike Woodson Era? Why is he still calling Iman Shumpert "rook" in his third season? Why is he blaming everything on Beno Udrih? The 2014-15 club may have sucked, but they played together, and they played hard right to the very end.
While Fisher's penchant for giving second (and third) chances have caused us quite a few headaches this season, it has also nurtured the wild, damn-near miraculous seasons of Lance Thomas and Derrick Williams. These dudes have bounced around the league for years, yet here they are, contributing. The coach has also been fairly patient with Jerian Grant through his obvious struggles. Sometimes an overabundance of patience and trust produces atrocities like "Sasha Vujacic, starter"; other times it produces this:
Derek Fisher may never turn into a great NBA coach, but he has shown a great deal of progress, especially of late. It ain't easy handling an NBA locker room, but it will be a hell of a lot easier if the Knicks keep on winning.