Somebody find Yogi Berra. It might just be deja vu all over again in Gotham City.
This, less than a year after the rival Brooklyn Nets plucked Jason Kidd from under their noses and installed him as their new head coach immediately following his retirement. Fisher, now 39, announced that the 2013-14 season would be his last as a player when he re-signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder last July.
The Zen Master reportedly prefers Brian Shaw, another former player of his, ahead of Fisher, but Shaw has thus far shown only reluctance toward leaving his post with the Denver Nuggets.
"I said it when all the speculation first started coming out. And that’s all that it is is speculation. I’m happy where I am," Shaw told ESPNNewYork.com's Ian Begley after the 2014 NBA draft lottery in Manhattan on Tuesday. "I’m looking forward to coaching a healthy, full complement of players with the Nuggets next year and improving what we did. [I] wish them well in what they’re doing but I’m happy where I am."
What's more, per the Post, the Knicks might not be so keen to fork over anything of value to the Nuggets to get Shaw out of his contract—and (obviously) even less so if Shaw isn't up for it.
Which brings us back to Fisher, who, all things considered, could make for a solid Plan C in New York's ongoing search for a new coach.
Plan A, if you'll recall, was Steve Kerr. The TNT broadcaster, who won three of his five titles with Jackson's Chicago Bulls in the 1990s, spurned the Knicks for a five-year, $25 million offer to replace Mark Jackson with the Golden State Warriors.
Kerr, though, didn't finish his introductory press conference in the Bay Area without comment on the Knicks' situation. "The most important thing I’ve learned in sports is owner/GM/coach, that troika, that relationship between those three, is critical," Kerr said, via ESPNNewYork.com. "The relationship between those three will determine how you get through the bumps (along the way)."
Fisher, as it happens, has learned a thing or two about dealing with rocky relationships over the years. As president of the Players' Association, he went toe-to-toe with the league's owners—and with Billy Hunter, then-executive director of the NBPA—during the 2011 lockout.
Shortly thereafter, Fisher was instrumental in uncovering the unsavory, nepotistic practices that eventually led to Hunter's ouster from the NBPA. Hunter subsequently filed suit against Fisher, though those claims have already been thrown out. Hunter only recently dropped his appeal of the ruling, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
Compared to the mess within the Players' Association, the dysfunction endemic to the Knicks should be a piece of cake. Team owner James Dolan has made more than his fair share of mistakes over the years, but at least his heart has largely been in the right place. He wants to win and has often gone to great lengths to help the Knicks do just that.
In his own mind, anyway.
Dolan, though, claimed that he was eager to leave the basketball side of the operation to Jackson when the Zen Master was first introduced as the Knicks' new hoops guru. More importantly, it would be Jackson's job, not Fisher's, to deal with Dolan's concerns directly.
The bigger issue for Fisher—or any Knicks coach-to-be, for that matter—will be managing egos on the court and in the locker room.
To that end, Fisher is uniquely qualified for a job in which he'll have to juggle the wants and needs of Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire (among others) with the collective goal of winning games.
Early in his playing career, Fisher served as a buffer of sorts between the ever-feuding Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant during the Los Angeles Lakers' Jackson-led three-peat. In his second go-round with Jackson's Lakers, Fisher became a crucial, sober-minded counterweight to Bryant's more bombastic personality in L.A.'s locker room.
For much of the last two-and-a-half seasons, Fisher has been a "big brother" to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and a sage voice for the young Oklahoma City Thunder on the whole. "He's like the leader of the team," a team source told the Post.
It's no wonder, then, that Durant, the league's recently crowned MVP, spoke so highly of Fisher's future prospects.
"Without a doubt," Durant said when asked by the Post if his teammate has what it takes to be a head coach. "He’s a smart guy, smart mind. He’s a great motivator, great speaker and can really relate to a lot of guys and demands that respect from everybody. He’s a great locker-room guy. I’m sure he’ll do a great job."
That sort of endorsement may well tickle Jackson's ear. The Knicks figure to be big players in free agency in 2015 and 2016, the latter of which will feature Durant among the marquee-worthy names on the market. Surely, having one of KD's confidants filling such a prominent post couldn't hurt New York's chances in that regard two years from now.
Fisher's relationship with Durant may have something to do with the former suddenly becoming a hot commodity before he's hung up his sneakers for good. According to USA Today's Sam Amick, the Thunder may try to keep Fisher around another year as a player/assistant coach under Scott Brooks.
Fisher could play one more season while learning coaching ropes (unofficial asst.) under Scott Brooks. That entire group values him greatly.— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) May 21, 2014
Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski even went so far as to tout Fisher as Mike D'Antoni's replacement with the Los Angeles Lakers.
In truth, it's Fisher's past success in purple and gold that makes him such an intriguing choice for the Knicks job. Nine of his 12-and-a-half seasons in L.A. were spent—and all five of his championship rings were earned—under the Zen Master's deft command.
During those years, Fisher operated as the nominal point guard in Jackson's vaunted triangle offense, launching threes and deferring to the likes of Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. As such, he knows the triangle about as well as anyone not named Phil—all on account of firsthand experience. If Jackson is truly keen on having the Knicks run the triangle, he could do much worse than employing one of his most cerebral former players to oversee its installation.
This isn't to suggest, though, that Jackson doesn't (or won't) have other options to consider.
Tyronn Lue, another former acolyte of the Zen Master, has been mentioned in connection with the job since Kerr turned down the team's offer, per ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne. Lue, a two-time champion with the Lakers in 2000 and 2001, spent four seasons as an assistant with the Boston Celtics before following Doc Rivers to the Los Angeles Clippers last summer.
As far as those outside of Jackson's small circle are concerned, Mike Dunleavy, who coached against Jackson three times in the playoffs, has spoken with the Zen Master about filling the vacancy, and Mark Jackson, the former Knicks point guard and Warriors coach, could get a shot before the process is through.
Fisher is far from the perfect candidate. His lack of experience, both as a coach and as a subject of the Big Apple media mob, is disconcerting, to say the least. There's no telling how he'll relate to players from such a different perspective. A year (or several) of seasoning as someone else's assistant would better prepare him for the rigors of the profession.
Let's not forget, either, that Fisher might not want to coach right away in the first place. "I literally have not given any thought," Fisher told USA Today's Sam Amick. He continued:
I've kept all my options open for years for that reason. I've been asked for more than a decade what I'm doing next. (But) I think you have to want to do anything you decide to do that requires the type of time and effort that coaching requires. You go through your process at the appropriate time, and then you decide from there.
Should the Knicks hire Derek Fisher to be their next head coach?
That being said, if Fisher does want to coach and is comfortable diving right in, Jackson would do well to consider him for the position. His ties to Jackson, his knowledge of the triangle, his sharp understanding of the game and the respect he commands among his peers make Fisher, on paper, a coaching star of the future.
To be sure, his start could be a rocky one. Like Kidd in Brooklyn this past season, Fisher will have to learn the ins and outs of his new profession on the fly, whether or not he enlists an experienced former coach (Kurt Rambis? Bill Cartwright?) to guide him.
And, of course, there's the not-insignificant matter of the Knicks' existing roster. New York won 17 fewer games in 2013-14 than it did in 2012-13, due in large part to a seemingly never-ending spate of injuries to key players and head-scratching maneuvers on the part of recently deposed head coach Mike Woodson.
In this regard, though, Kidd's tenure with the Nets could also encourage the Knicks' pursuit of Fisher. Kidd seemed to get the hang of coaching as his rookie season went along and proved particularly nimble in helping his team cope with injuries.
Fisher may not be anything like Kidd as a coach, just as he was far from Kidd's caliber as a player. But if recent local history is any guide, taking a fresh retiree out of the frying pan of playing and dropping him into the inferno of Madison Square Garden might be a smart move after all.
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