Yesterday, I bolted awake on west coast time to a phone notification that Derek Fisher had been fired. Many hours of travel later, I'm eager to find out what's next. The months ahead should run somewhat parallel to the months following Phil Jackson's initial takeover. He must make something out of an incomplete roster. The critical difference is that he feels this team is half-full, not half-empty, and that it is worth finishing, not tearing down. (Or at least I hope he feels that way, since he did all this himself!). That's a lot of work. And now there's extra work, similar to when he took over: He's gotta decide who he wants to coach the team long-term, too. A few thoughts on the above:
1. The Knicks still have to work a trade deadline next week. Phil's quotes about improving the roster are here, and his points are simple: The Knicks have part of a good roster. They have some guys who came into the year undervalued who have helped quite a bit (he doesn't name Lance Thomas and Langston Galloway, but that's who came to my mind). They are far from complete, though, and while Dad's rightfully looking at free agency as the major roster builder, the Knicks will be talking next week. New York holds contracts of every size and can assemble a reasonable offer for any target (or accept one), if not the very best offer.
2. Kurt Rambis coached the Timberwolves terribly five years ago. Lockout Lakers aside, that was his first head coaching gig. Will he do as a bad a job here in New York? Quite possibly! Or maybe the variables will work in his favor this time. This is a different team, and it's one with which he has a year and a half of working experience. For the next 28 games, he'll be running a system his players already know, and have already run beautifully when engaged.
This may sound trite, but I think the Triangle relies on players giving a shit more than other systems do. You can run a pretty meek spread pick-and-roll and still find a decent shot. We've seen repeatedly that a process of screens, cuts, and reads made in close quarters will generate only garbage shots if those actions aren't executed with vigor. Coach Nick demonstrated that very well in the middle of this video. The Triangle suffers more at half-speed than other offenses do, I think, and that becomes a problem when your team isn't operating at full bore, or its full bore isn't that dynamic to begin with. You shouldn't bother driving a stick if you don't feel like uhhh working the clutch? I dunno. I remembered halfway through this metaphor I don't know how to drive stick.
My point is: For all his rotational foibles, I think Fisher's coaching was tactically pretty sound considering his experience level. He sometimes set a bar for execution, though, that the Knicks could not or would not clear.
If the Knicks suddenly wake up for Rambis, I think they'll start looking a lot better very quickly. Will they wake up? And if they do, will it last? Everyone's favorite Phil Jackson toady believes the players lost respect for Fisher. Do they respect Rambis? I think I would, because I have an innate appreciation for Chill Weed Dads, but there's no way yet of knowing how the players will respond to his leadership, which I suspect will feel unlike Fish's stiff-jawed gravitas and penchant for motivational messages.
Ultimately, Jackson knows Rambis well enough -- and probably considers him enough of a peer -- that his opinion of his friend's coaching virtues can only change so much. It'll be hard to keep him around, though, if the team sharts away these last 28 games.
3. This might be minor, but I found it interesting:
Phil seems to hint Fisher didn't utilize assistants the way Jackson would've preferred. Mentions Rambis and Cleamons by name.— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) February 8, 2016
I wonder if the staff might be a bit bipartisan, since half these guys are Phil guys from the Lakers and half these guys are Fisher guys from the Thunder. Rambis insists he wants to be challenged!
4. That Woj piece, by the way, has a lot going on. It feels personal, as a lot of Woj columns do, but it touches on some very real qualities of the Phil regime, things we've discussed at every major crossroad over these years:
In a lot of ways, Jackson exists in a parallel universe to the NBA. He hires coaches out of his world, personnel scouts out of his world.
I know better at this point than to predict Phil Jackson's behavior, but Woj rightfully suggests this won't be the usual coaching search. He's not pulling that out of thin air:
Phil, on whether the next coach needs to run the triangle: "It's not paramount, but it's important."— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) February 8, 2016
It's not unreasonable to dismiss a compelling candidate like Tom Thibodeau out of hand, since he's not at all a Phil Guy (and not a Dolan guy, to boot. But very much an Isola guy!!). And it is reasonable to bet that Phil Guys with minimal (Luke Walton) or poor (Brian Shaw, Rambis) coaching experience will be strongly considered. That's the route he went last time. For better or worse, I would be very surprised if the Knicks behave like a normal team, interview all the obvious candidates of all flavors, and pick their favorite. Woj sounds angry about that. It definitely doesn't seem ideal to me -- the normal way to run a basketball team often works! -- but I'm honestly more fascinated than worried.
Whether or not you buy the theory that Phil's gonna flee to L.A. in the near future, you have heard Jackson say multiple times that he's not just gonna keep this job indefinitely. So now that he's bailed on Fisher, who will Jackson pick to lead the team, presumably with an eye beyond his own tenure? Is his new coach someone who will let *him* coach from afar? Is it someone who can take his beloved principles to the next level? Is it someone who will challenge him? How do you satisfy a legendary coach with your coaching? How do you also win in that condition?
5. On that note, here's Phil:
I am sad about D-Fish. However, I'm not discouraged. Here is some things pundits should know before assuming 'next'. pic.twitter.com/cFnA8TQAhx— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) February 9, 2016