What Makes Derek Fisher Such an Appealing Candidate for Head Coach?

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 3, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK  MAY 25: Derek Fisher #6 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives against the San Antonio Spurs  in Game Three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs on May 25, 2014 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE  (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

Derek Fisher has lived every second of his basketball life as if it were an audition.

He's always been perfectly composed, put-together and polished. He dressed well, spoke with gravitas and played with a strange combination of confidence and just the right mixture of genuine and phony hustle. And if that last part comes off sounding bitter, it's because I watched him pound the dribble, run into people and fake his way through two horrendous years with the Golden State Warriors.

The point is, Fisher acted like somebody was watching him, judging his qualities as a leader and vetting him for some higher calling. He was keenly self-aware—both on the court and in front of the press.

I suppose it's also possible he's actually a genuine stand-up guy who wasn't putting on any kind of self-assured, holier-than-thou front. But I'm far too cynical to believe there wasn't at least a little bit of acting going on all along.

Anyway, it turns out that constant awareness of how others perceived him may soon pay off in the form of an NBA head coaching job.

No, he's not retired. And the mad rush from a couple of high-profile teams to talk to him only emphasizes the strong reactions he's generated.

A report from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports revealed the Los Angeles Lakers were interested, albeit in a lukewarm fashion.

The same goes for the New York Knicks, per Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com:

Phil Jackson's first substantive chat with Derek Fisher about the New York Knicks' coaching job is scheduled to take place this week, according to sources close to the situation.

Sources told ESPN.com Monday that Jackson is planning to connect with Fisher by week's end, giving the Oklahoma City Thunder guard some time to decompress after his team was eliminated by San Antonio Saturday night in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals.

Jackson even absorbed a $25,000 tampering fine for talking about Fisher as a candidate while he was still playing in the Western Conference finals, per Stein.

There's no question Fisher is a hot commodity, and it's not really all that hard to figure out why—especially when you step back and think about the two teams with the most interest.

Zen Master of Puppets

Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

Jackson needs a coach for his Knicks, but he'd like that someone to be receptive to Zen suggestion.

It's probably too strong to say Jackson wants a patsy, but something close to that sounds about right.

Fisher could function as a well-regarded figurehead for a franchise that hasn't deserved respect for years, and he'd probably have the ear of the players.

Per Brett Pollakoff of NBC Sports:

He’s always been a respected locker room presence and a calm leader on the floor who’s produced in the most pressure-packed situations, but coaching presents an entirely different set of challenges. Jason Kidd went directly from playing to being a head coach, and Fisher’s demeanor would seem to allow him to do the same — whether in New York with Phil Jackson immediately, or eventually somewhere else.

Most importantly, though, he'd do whatever Phil told him to. You can already see the pull of the Zen Master at work in Fisher's comments.

"There's for sure huge layers added to [the decision]," Fisher said, per Stein and Shelburne. "The personal relationship and professional relationship that I've had with Phil Jackson over the years, and being in the position that he's in."

See, Fisher is a company man. Always has been. He's never been a star, and though he's certainly in possession of some measure of ego, he won't bristle like some experienced coaches would when Jackson starts calling the shots.

We all know Jackson will have a significant influence on everything the Knicks do. Basically, he wants to coach a team without having to travel.

Fisher essentially gives him that option.

Kobe's Pacifier?

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 29:  Derek Fisher #37 of the Oklahoma City Thunder is greeted by Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on March 29, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, b
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The Lakers connection, while probably less likely to turn into a real job (because L.A. wants somebody with experience, per Wojnarowski), is similarly easy to understand.

Fisher has ties to the franchise, and that's a priority for the Lakers, whose exceptionalist thinking has them strangely eager to install someone who reveres a bygone era.

(An aside: This makes no sense. The Lakers are a basketball team and a business. That's it. Prioritizing an appreciation for past mystique is ridiculous—and probably counterproductive because that kind of thinking stifles fresh perspectives and honest evaluations.)

Anyhow, Fisher also has a strong relationship with Kobe Bryant. And respect is hard to come by with that dude.

You have to wonder how quickly the mutual admiration would evaporate if Fisher didn't make a solid first impression on the sidelines. Kobe respects capability, and if Fisher displayed a lack of it, that relationship could sour in a hurry.

Ultimately, Fisher is a pacifier for the Lakers and Bryant. He'd give fans somebody to believe in, Bryant somebody to trust and the organization a grace period until the full rebuild begins in two years.


Looking at things more broadly, experience in the head coaching department isn't as important as it used to be.

That's probably because more and more members of ownership and management come into the NBA from other areas of the business world. Analytics matter more, and coaches are increasingly viewed as assets who'll deploy those analytics.

Instead of having the final say on rotations and strategy, coaches are now more frequently just one voice in a larger discussion on those topics. Coaches can sometimes butt up against the idea of collaborative decision-making (see: Jackson, Mark).

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 11: Bob Myers, Joe Lacob, and Mark Jackson chat on the sideline during a game against the Maccabi Haifa on October 11, 2012 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloa
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Generally speaking, though, coaches with lots of experience come with a set method of doing things. And that's not really what the younger, more open-minded, more collaborative set of decision-makers want.

Front offices are more interested in coaches they can mold or at least work with in dialogue.

Fisher seems like that kind of guy.

And even if he doesn't get a job in L.A. or New York (though the Knicks gig feels like a foregone conclusion), Fisher represents the latest example of a growing trend.

Jason Kidd did just fine without any previous head coaching reps. Ditto for Mark Jackson and Jeff Hornacek.

The truth is, there's no way to know if Fisher will be any good as a coach. But players around the league know and respect him. Plus, he'll take direction from higher-ups, and above all, he'll look and act the part.

These days, that's all it takes.


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