Setting aside the obvious disparities in championships and All-Star appearances, Jason Kidd and Derek Fisher share quite a bit in common.
Both logged close to two decades as NBA point guards, marshaling their respective teams with a similarly seasoned intelligence, if wholly polar skill sets.
Both wasted little time trading their sneakers for suits and jerseys for Joseph A. Banks, eschewing the standard retirement sabbatical for a post-frying pan fire in the world’s foremost media tinderbox.
So which of the two has the tougher row to hoe? Who stands a better chance of managing the maelstrom and bringing a banner to their title-starved city?
This competition is closer than any Kidd and Fisher ever had on the floor.
Fisher’s five-year, $25 million deal says a couple of things about New York’s mindset going forward.
First, James Dolan has thus far been true to his word in not interfering with Phil Jackson’s operative approach—something Fisher himself tacitly acknowledged when he told reporters at his inaugural press conference that he hadn’t so much as sat down with New York’s much-maligned owner ahead of the hire:
Steve Mills says he and James Dolan "didn't have a single conversation" about Derek Fisher last night at the Ranger game— Kenny Ducey (@KennyDucey) June 10, 2014
Secondly, the Knicks clearly considered Fisher a long-term risk worth taking, due in no small part, perhaps, to New York’s tenuous near-future outlook.
Fisher and Jackson’s first order of business: convince Carmelo Anthony to either opt in to the final year of his current contract or—more ideally—compel him to re-sign at a discount, thereby giving the Knicks some much needed financial flexibility.
Of course, Anthony remaining with the Knicks is no guarantee the Knicks can somehow right the ship—especially considering the offensive overhaul Fisher and Jackson have in mind.
Fisher briefly broached the subject of the triangle offense during his inaugural presser, the strongest sign yet that the implementation of Jackson’s famed system is all but imminent.
In fact, it’s not so outlandish to assume that Jackson’s insistence on the matter might be his way of forcing Melo’s hand. Should the All-Star small forward leave, Fisher and Phil would doubtlessly enjoy a quieter grace period, one where the offense could blossom at its own pace.
Derek Fisher: "We want Carmelo to be here…obviously he has a choice…we'll do everything we can to keep him."— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) June 10, 2014
Contrastingly, if Anthony picks up his option or re-signs with the Knicks, Fisher would then be tasked with getting his on-court cornerstone to buy in—something Mike D’Antoni and Mike Woodson didn’t exactly have the easiest time doing.
Regardless of Melo’s ultimate decision, however, Fisher is sure to face a fanbase fed up with decades of feckless mismanagement and broken promises.
Indeed, as Bleacher Report’s Grant Hughes underscored, Fisher had better be prepared for a world where patience and prudence aren’t exactly the currency of choice:
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.
Still, with Fisher’s fortunes tied as tightly as they are to Jackson’s untouchable star, the only way he’ll be getting the boot—short of unmitigated coaching incompetence—is if Dolan stages some sort of house-clearing coup.
And yet, Fisher made it abundantly clear during his introductory press conference that his arrival in New York has nothing to do with NBA nepotism, and everything to do with changing the Knicks’ caustic culture. From ESPN New York’s Ian Begley:
This is not a ceremony. This is not for PR. This is not for Phil and I to hang out again as friends... This is to go to work, get our job done. ... We want to add more banners to this ceiling in here as we all continue to come back to this building on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly basis. I thank you all. I look forward to working with you all, in helping re-establish the New York Knicks as not only the best team in New York, but as one of the best teams in the world.
A Kidd No More
To see just how scalding the spotlight can be in New York City, Fisher need only type three words into his Google search box: Jason Kidd fired.
Kidd may have survived his first season at the Brooklyn Helm, but the scars prove just how close a call it was.
With a payroll close to $200 million, Kidd’s margin for error was smaller than perhaps any first-time coach in NBA history. For a while, it seemed like Kidd’s quick transition was doomed to become a cautionary tale for all future court-to-clopboard candidates.
Then, slowly but surely, the Nets began to course correct, eventually finishing with the No. 6 seed and advancing to a predictable defeat at the hands of the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The silver lining of a solid finish aside, Brooklyn will once again find itself in luxury-tax hell this summer, despite Pierce becoming an unrestricted free agent.
Prokhorov—a billionaire many, many times over—has shown a consistent willingness to abandon the financial prudence practiced by many of his peers. How long he’s willing to continue granting that good faith, however, remains to be seen.
Brooklyn’s flamboyant owner has thus far given little indication as to how long a leash Coach Kidd may have. But if the world of professional sports has taught us anything, it’s that the can of accountability is almost always kicked on down the road.
A Question of Expectations
In terms of sheer roster makeup, the Nets—even without Pierce—stand to boast more talent and depth across the board. Which, on the surface, would seem to give Kidd the edge on degree of difficulty.
Contrastingly, Fisher boasts a president and general manager on whom he can rely not merely as a longtime friend and confidant, but as someone wielding near autonomous control.
Number of Playoff wins since 1996-97 season: Derek Fisher 161 Knicks 40— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 10, 2014
So while Kidd may have the easier time on the court, Fisher can rest easier knowing he’s backed by the full faith and credit of Phil Jackson, the safest, most stable basketball currency in the world.
As with just about any first-year coach, Fisher is bound to experience growing pains—pains that could prove crippling should Anthony decide to leave the Knicks in the dust.
This is why the matter of who has the tougher task ahead of him can perhaps best be answered by another question: Which would you rather have keeping you up at night, the deafening drone of Garden boo-birds after a fifth straight loss or visions of an executioner's axe hanging over your head?