Derek Fisher was formally introduced as the head coach of the New York Knicks on Tuesday in a press conference alongside team president Phil Jackson and general manager Steve Mills.
“I’m taking a tremendous amount of pride in coming here and doing my job,” Fisher said. “This is not a ceremony. This is not for PR. This is not for Phil and I to just hang out again as friends. This is to go to work and get our job done and 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.”
Fisher, 39, was a reserve guard for the Thunder this season. He was a regular contributor throughout Oklahoma City’s run to the Western Conference finals and all the while a prominent figure in the Knicks coaching search, in large part due to his nine seasons under Jackson. The two will now be tasked with turning around a New York team that failed to make the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference field after finishing 37-45. That could be a tall order for Fisher, in particular, who comes to this new role without any practical coaching experience. He addressed that fact in his introduction on Tuesday.
“There will obviously be a lot of talk about my inexperience as a head coach,” Fisher said. “That is obviously, factually true: I have not been a head coach in the NBA, or college or high school. 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.
“That’s the experience that I plan on sharing with these players, sharing with this organization, along with Mr. [James] Dolan, Phil, Steve, our entire staff, all of our players, our strength and conditioning coaches, our PR staff, our community relations staff, everybody in this organization. We will be committed to being the best. Our players will understand that and that’s what we’re going to get back to. That’s the bar that we will set again within this team and within this organization. That’s why I’m here, that’s why I took advantage of this opportunity to be part of that process. All I’ve heard about is how special this city can be when the Knicks are winning and the Knicks are playing well and the city’s proud and the energy is high. I’ve experienced that on the West Coast and I’m looking forward to experiencing it on the East Coast.”
Fisher was reportedly given a five-year deal by the Knicks worth $25 million. Following his introductory remarks on Tuesday, he fielded questions from the media in attendance on a wide range of topics.
Whether he thinks the Knicks can keep Carmelo Anthony:
“That’s a good question, but one I don’t have the answer to. Only Carmelo can answer that question. that’s a big part of not only who I am as a person and have been as a player but who I’ll be as a coach is that ultimately the decision to be great, to be a part of something special, to want to be the best that you can be is ultimately your choice. Carmelo is in a position as a player where that’s his choice. I can speak from experience that as a player, free agency is something you want to experience. You enjoy the process, but you ultimately make a choice that you feel like is best for you, your family or those people involved. We firmly believe that [New York] is a good place for Carmelo and we’re going to do our best to help — not convince him or change his mind from maybe a decision he’s already made, but help — give him some confidence that with the personalities involved and our commitment to working hard to achieve a certain level of success that this is a place where he can have what it is he wants. He wants to be on a great team. He wants to be around great people that want to achieve greatness. He’s great, and he deserves that. And so that’s what we want to work to create with him and hopefully we can do it.”
On his relationship with Anthony and where the prospect of securing his return stands:
“I’ve obviously not been on the same team with Carmelo. We’ve played against each other for years and like I said earlier he’s one of the great ones. In due time, I’ll continue to speak with all of our players — not just Carmelo. But there won’t be any hesitation to let him know that I’m excited about the opportunity to possibly work with him. Like we said earlier, it will be his choice. Phil can speak to that in terms of overall where things stand — that’ll be more Phil and Steve’s area of focus. As the head coach, I have to be prepared to coach the players that we ultimately have. I would love to have the opportunity to work closely with Carmelo I’m looking forward to it. We’ll see if it can happen.”
Whether he received any interest from the Lakers:
“No, it was a very casual kind of informal reach out from the Lakers. I don’t know if they ever really considered me as one of their head coaching candidates. They very informally kind of reached out to me. We didn’t have a formal interview, a formal sit-down. What I expressed to them was that if they wanted to have a formal sit-down we could do that but that with my relationship with Phil and the conversations that we’ve had thus far, unless they’re very serious about sitting down and talking, there’s not much to talk about. So that was over pretty quickly. I was surprised as maybe some of you were that [the Lakers] made the announcement they made that they wouldn’t pursue me. I don’t think they ever intended to and that’s fine, I respect it. I never really thought of that or tried to compare the two opportunities. This was an opportunity that spoke to me right away and that I was excited about from the beginning.”
Whether Fisher intends to install the triangle offense he ran as a point guard under Jackson:
“I’ve enjoyed in my playing career with Phil and in LA tremendous success in the triangle system. It’s one that I’m well-versed in and I know extremely well. Not sure if I’ve quite mastered it — I’m sure Phil would maybe disagree and I’m sure Tex Winter would probably really disagree that I ever mastered it. But I know it well. I’ve also played for other great coaches that don’t run the triangle and it’s not necessarily the only way to play basketball. What we will do is do what we feel like is best for the team. I love the triangle system. I believe with the roster we have we can utilize it to be more efficient, to be more effective, to give ourself a chance to play better defense by getting higher-percentage shots. So I believe in the system and obviously Phil and I, Steve, our coaching staff as we fill that out, we’ll make decisions about style and system and how we’re going to play and what we’re going to do. But ultimately we have to do what’s best for the players and for the team to be successful, so that’s the way I see it. Like I said, I love the triangle but we’ll do what we feel like is best for the group.”
Whether he’s spoken to or learned from the experiences of other recent first-time coaches in the NBA:
“I’ve always been a student of the game and tried my best, even while playing, to pay attention to the trends around the league. For sure I’ve been aware of the success [Jason Kidd and Mark Jackson] have had, whether it’s stepping from broadcasting or finishing up playing last year as Jason did and going right into being a head coach. It’s been done before where men who do not have head coaching experience go right into a head coaching job and there are no guarantees for success or failure. You just have to work at it and figure it out.
I’ve paid attention to that and I feel like I can learn some things from the experience that those men have had. I haven’t spoken with them directly at this point. This was a process that was very fragile and most of the time [was] spent working with my family and talking to Phil and talking to Steve about how we could figure this out. But in the coming days and weeks I’ll spend a lot of time speaking with several former coaches, current coaches, mentors [and] leaders as I try to prepare myself for this job and obviously work internally with our group to give ourselves every chance to be the best.”
What role Jackson’s presence within the Knicks organization had in Fisher taking the job:
“There’s no question that Phil’s presence here put me in a position where [I could make] a quicker decision about what would be next for me and my family in life. That was a huge part of it — not just the idea of working together as basketball people and trying to make the team what it can be, but the idea that even if Phil and I did not have history together, the opportunity to work with and learn from one of the greatest basketball coaches and basketball minds that we’ve ever seen — as a basketball person that’s an opportunity that’s worth pursuing, worth exploring. So right away I had to consider that piece of it. And then the history of this organization and the New York Knicks — not having lived on the East coast or in New York before, but the opportunity to be a part of the fabric of this city after spending so much time in Los Angeles as a player and as a person it was just great. I’m also not as down on the roster and the team as some of you in the room are. I think there are some things we can do with this team that can be special right now — not years from now.”
On his relationship with Knicks owner James Dolan and whether it played any part in his coming to New York:
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mr. Dolan obviously as a businessman and what he established here but we don’t have that kind of personal relationship or rapport, per se. We spent some time in small rooms and bargaining sessions, etc. [during the 2011 lockout) but other than that we don’t speak or haven’t spoken during this process. I’ve only spoken with Phil and with Steve. Obviously I will work for the Knicks and work for MSG and he’s our owner and so the respect is there. We’ll now probably develop a rapport and a great relationship, I hope, but it didn’t factor into whether this was a great opportunity, [or if] it was something that I would choose to do or not do based on that relationship.”
On when and how he started preparing himself to become a head coach:
“I think preparing myself for this moment and being the head coach of an NBA basketball team is something that started at six years old. I played my first game of organized basketball when I was six years old and though I was one of the better kids on that team, I’ve very rarely been the best player, the most talented, the tallest, the highest jumping, the best shooter on a basketball team. So right away as a young person I immediately had to start thinking about the game of basketball — how it was played, where I could find my advantage, and how I could be the most effective even if I wasn’t physically the most gifted or talented. So for the last 33 years that’s the way I’ve always viewed the game and in the last 18 years as an NBA player in this business that’s the only reason I’ve been around for 18 years is that I’ve thought the game as a coach. The angles, the advantages, the disadvantages, the spacing. Defensively, the best way to do things, especially as a guy that continued to age in this league. How can I defend and still be effective?
I very rarely put myself in a box in terms of saying this is the one thing that I wanted to do, but having an opportunity to be the head coach of the New York Knicks is an amazing opportunity and one that I’m thankful for and one I feel very prepared for even though I haven’t been a head coach in the past.”