To-Do List for Derek Fisher as NY Knicks' Next Head Coach

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 9, 2014

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Nine days after his first career ended, word came that Derek Fisher was about to start his second—as head coach of the New York Knicks.

Per B/R's Howard Beck, the briefly-retired point guard agreed to swap out his shorts for a suit:

And with the five-year, $25 million contract he'll soon sign, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, it's safe to assume he won't be buying off the rack.

Saying yes to mentor Phil Jackson and accepting the fifth-highest head coaching salary in the NBA were the easy parts, though. Very soon, Fisher will have to get down to business.

1. Thank Phil

LOS ANGELES - JUNE 17: Head Coach Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrate after defeating the Boston Celtics 83-79 in Game Seven of the 2010 NBA Finals on June 17, 2010 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO US
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

Let's not pretend Fisher was in the running for any other coaching positions. Oh, sure, his name came up in talks about the Los Angeles Lakers gig, but there was never any real substance to that. And besides, L.A. recently decided it would only consider candidates with previous head coaching experience, per Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.

So for Fisher, it was Knicks or bust.

Because Jackson wanted a coach who'd take his word as gospel and implement his ideas on the team, his options were somewhat limited. Don't take any of this the wrong way, though; Phil is entitled to pick whomever he wants as a coach. He's been successful enough with his system to have earned the benefit of the doubt in that regard.

Fisher wasn't going to be a head coach any time soon. Without Jackson hand-picking him, D-Fish's options would have included retirement, another year on the court or the difficult task of breaking through as a low-level executive or assistant.

None of those sound as good as "head coach of the Knicks," do they?

Fisher owes Jackson a debt of thanks.

2. Take a Bow

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 21:  Derek Fisher #6 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on April 21, 2014 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  NOTE TO USER: User expre
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Even though Fisher fell into a job as Jackson's second choice (Steve Kerr was No. 1 and everybody knew it), the new Knicks coach should take a second to appreciate his good fortune.

Less than two weeks after being bounced from the playoffs (and playing a ridiculous 33 minutes in the Oklahoma City Thunder's 112-107 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on May 31), he's set to become the head coach of one of the NBA's marquee franchises.

No experience, no problem.

That's not to say there weren't signs Fisher could make such a massive leap in such a short time. The trend of hiring inexperienced coaches, Fisher's overall reputation as a heady leader and the reports that talks between Fisher and the Knicks were escalating quickly combined to take a lot of the surprise out of his hiring.

I mean, Jackson and the Knicks ate a $25,000 fine for mentioning Fisher as a candidate while he was still playing. If it wasn't clear before that he was in the running, it was crystallized then.

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 18: Phil Jackson answers questions during the press conference to introduce him as President of the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on March 18, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Remember, Fisher didn't sound like a guy in a hurry on June 1: "There'll be, I'm sure, conversations and talks at some point," Fisher said, per Al Iannazzone of Newsday. "But this is still pretty raw and pretty fresh, what just happened."

"I don't think based on the emotions that I'm feeling right now that it's smart to start betting on what I will do next. I'm going to definitely take it seriously, and like I've always tried to do with everything in life, consider my options, consider what's best and then go from there."

I guess it didn't take long for Fisher to consider his options: a) coach Knicks or b) nothing.

Still, kudos to Fisher for leaping past all that bothersome work most would-be coaches have to endure. Advanced scouting, video coordinating, years as an assistant—all bypassed.

That's a heck of an achievement, and one Fisher should be delighted about.

3. Pick a Staff

CHRIS PIZZELLO/Associated Press

On to brass tacks.

Fisher needs some help, which isn't all that surprising considering his complete lack of experience. Fortunately, there are already names floating around who might be of some assistance:

I suppose it doesn't hurt that, to a man, his pool of potential assistants are Jackson's guys. Again, that's perfectly fine. Jackson is the guy running the show, and Fisher is lucky to be in the position he's in. Perhaps in the future, Fisher will mature into a highly capable coach with his own ideas on everything from assistants to offensive game plans.

For now, though, it's all Zen Master, all the time. And that means a staff of Jackson disciples who know and love the triangle offense. Fisher should be plenty comfortable around guys like that.

4. Put in a Call to Melo

MIAMI, FL - April 6: Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks looks on while on the court during the game against the Miami Heat at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida on April 6, 2014. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that,
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

Fisher knows the NBA is a player's league, largely because he was one of those players just a few days ago.

As such, he'll make it a priority to get on the horn with Carmelo Anthony as soon as possible. The Knicks' best player can become a free agent this summer by exercising an early-termination option in his contract, and Fisher will be expected to bring all his sage wisdom and locker room gravitas to bear on 'Melo.

It's hard to know how much it will matter when Fisher reaches out to Anthony, especially since we can't be sure what the superstar thinks of his new coach, per Ian Begley of

Anthony hasn’t commented publicly about Fisher. He has said his first priority is to re-sign with the Knicks, but he would also like to be in a situation where he can perennially contend for a title. So the Knicks’ new head coach will likely factor into his decision.

If 'Melo is serious about perennial contention as a priority, Fisher has his work cut out for him. The Knicks are positioned to have virtually the same roster they had last year. You know, the one with atrocious point guard play, no capable defenders and a handful of grossly overpaid low-percentage scorers?

They won 37 games in a joke of a conference last year, remember?

Apr 2, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) celebrates a basket with teammates against the Brooklyn Nets during the first half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

While Fisher can probably sell Anthony on making the postseason and the relative ease of the East, he can't reliably say the Knicks will contend for a title in 2014-15. So in that sense, he'll have to preach patience.

The Knicks' books clear up almost completely in the summer of 2015, at which point they could reload and chase a ring in earnest. Fisher must convince Anthony it'll be worth the wait. Of course, it'll also help that the Knicks can pay 'Melo more than any other team.

Fisher has some serious charisma, and he commands respect around the league. But he's still got a tricky sales pitch ahead of him.

5. Subjugate the Ego

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - May 13: Derek Fisher #6 of the Oklahoma City Thunder arrives at the arena before the game against Los Angeles Clippers in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Chesapeake Arena on May 13, 2014
Richard Rowe/Getty Images

No, this isn't a reference to what logic dictates will be a very hands-on approach by Jackson. Such a powerful, looming presence would certainly poke at the ego of a more experienced coach, but Fisher wouldn't have taken this job if he was uncomfortable with the idea of Phil managing things his way.

If anything, Fisher is lucky to have a mentor who can hold his hand through everything from practice schedules to in-game rotations to monthly Eastern religion reading assignments.

Where Fisher is decidedly less fortunate is in the way he'll be treated by fans—particularly ones who'll start chanting a certain team president's name when the Knicks lose back-to-back games in early November.

That's right; the "We want Phil" chorus will be at full volume at some point in the beginning stages of the 2014-15 campaign, and Fisher is going to have to learn to tune it out. As a proud competitor for so many years, it'll be tough to hear so much vocal doubt at an early juncture.

"Yeah, you can tell everybody..."
"Yeah, you can tell everybody..."Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Unfair as it'll be, it's going to happen.

Composure is one of Fisher's great strengths, though, and he'll be able to maintain outward calm. But when he heads into the tunnel after a rough loss and the fans are chanting for his boss to take over, he'll have to take a deep breath, remember that this Knicks team is a work in progress and soldier on toward the future.

Ultimately, Fisher came to the Knicks because Jackson believed he could help implement a long-term vision that could drag the Knicks toward respectability. In order to make it through that journey, Fisher is going to have to learn to live with disrespect on a daily basis.

That—more than anything—may be the most important item on his checklist.


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