The New York Knicks took a chance when they hired Derek Fisher as their head coach despite the fact he never held a previous coaching position in his professional career. That chance didn’t pay off, as the Knicks announced Monday their firing of Fisher. Kurt Rambis will serve as interim head coach.
New York Knickerbockers President Phil Jackson announced today that Derek Fisher has been relieved of his coaching duties. Associate Head Coach Kurt Rambis has been named the interim head coach.
Fisher, who was originally hired on Jun. 10, 2014, finishes his Knicks coaching career with an overall record of 40-96 (.294).
Rambis becomes the 27th head coach in franchise history. Originally hired as the team’s associate head coach on Jul. 7, 2014, the 18-year NBA coaching veteran starts his second-stint as a head coach, after leading the Minnesota Timberwolves for two seasons from 2009-10 through 2010-11 (56-145).
Brian Mahoney of the Associated Press provided Fisher's statement following his departure:
Fisher thanks Dolan, Jackson, Mills in statement: "This is a very talented team with strong character & I am confident they will succeed ..— Brian Mahoney (@briancmahoney) February 8, 2016
Fisher (cont.) .. "Obviously, I'm disappointed, but have learned an immense amount from this experience and hope to grow from it."— Brian Mahoney (@briancmahoney) February 8, 2016
Knicks president Phil Jackson later spoke to reporters about the decision, saying, "it's a relief for him," referring to Fisher being able to not have to deal with the stress of being an NBA head coach.
Jackson added that Fisher's off-court run-in with Matt Barnes was "embarrassing" but had no impact on the decision to part ways.
"Management was disappointed with team's performance, decided change was needed," reported ESPN.com's Ian Begley. ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst reported "league sources believe Brian Shaw and Luke Walton are top long-term replacement candidates."
The Knicks dropped to 23-31 following a 101-96 home loss to the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.
New York brought Fisher aboard before the 2014-15 season shortly after he finished his 18th campaign as a player. It seemed like a strange move on paper, but Jackson coached Fisher to five championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, and there was a relationship and established trust in place.
What’s more, Fisher served as the president of the Players Association during the 2011 lockout and was often seen as a veteran leader in the clubhouse and on the court. He addressed those doubts regarding his experience when he was hired, per Brian Mahoney of the Associated Press (h/t Yahoo Sports):
But I am experienced. Basketball is a game that I am experienced in playing, understanding, leading in, guiding in, helping another group of people achieve the greatest gift in the world as a professional athlete, and that's being a champion. That I have experience in, and that's the experience that I plan on sharing with these players, sharing with this organization.
Experienced or not, the Knicks finished an abysmal 17-65 in Fisher’s first season with the team and were a far cry from even the campaign before when they went 37-45 under Mike Woodson. New York also went 54-28 in 2012-13 and reached the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Fans were so disgusted they chanted “Fire Fisher” during games in his first season.
To Fisher’s credit, his Knicks won more games in 2015-16 and looked like a vastly improved product on the court. In fact, they hung around for stretches as potential playoff contenders during the early and middle portions of the season behind Carmelo Anthony and dynamic rookie Kristaps Porzingis, though they never could quite get into a groove.
Fisher himself tried to place the focus on the process more than the winning when New York stumbled in January, per Al Iannazzone of Newsday:
We’re still a team that’s trying to develop into a consistent high-performing team. So focus on process is more important than result. I think that’s worked well for us.
In recent weeks as the noise has picked up about what we might be able to do three, four months from now, we’ve had some slippage in terms of focusing on one day at a time and playing the game that’s in front of us.
Alas, Fisher won’t get the opportunity to see that process to its ideal conclusion following his firing.
There were understandable questions about his experience when he took over the job, and it is fair to call it a failure considering he was fired before All-Star Weekend. Still, he garnered some experience in the pressure cooker that is New York and dealt with a passionate fanbase, a superstar in Anthony and the intense media scrutiny that always follows the Knicks.
Whatever job he takes next may not come with all those variables, and he should theoretically be more prepared to attack it with actual coaching experience on his resume. He may just guide a team to the playoffs if given an ideal opportunity with the right combination of talent.
Looking ahead, Rambis now has a chance to correct the Knicks and put them on a winning path. They currently sit in 12th place in the Eastern Conference standings but still have a chance to make the playoffs, as the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons only have four more wins than New York at the time of Fisher's firing.
Rambis, at least, has previous coaching experience and may be able to get more out of the Knicks until the team finds a long-term replacement.