There Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson stood side by side, a partnership they shared plenty of times that spanned over five NBA championships.
But the circumstances this time were different. First, the backdrop. Instead of Fisher wearing a Lakers uniform, he stood in front of the New York Knicks logo. Second, the role. Instead of Fisher leading the Lakers as a respected locker room voice, he is now asked to lead the Knicks as their next head coach. Third, the relationship with Jackson. Instead of Fisher playing for Jackson as the Lakers’ head coach, Fisher will coach for Jackson as the Knicks’ president.
Yet, with the Lakers having a head-coaching vacancy, did Fisher ever have interest in patrolling the sidelines in front of their bench? Did the Lakers even want that?
“It was a very casual, kind of informal reach out from the Lakers,” Fisher said Tuesday at the Knicks’ introductory press conference in New York. “I don’t know if they really considered me as their head coaching, or one of their head coaching candidates. They informally reached out to me. We didn’t have a formal interview or formal sitdown. What I expressed to them was if they wanted to have a formal sitdown, we could do that, but my relationship with Phil and the conversations we had thus far, unless they’re serious about sitting down and talking, there’s not much to talk about. That was over pretty quickly.”
Still, a few media outlets, including this one, reported this weekend that the Lakers decided against pursuing Fisher. Instead, the Lakers have narrowed their deliberative coaching search to candidates with past NBA head-coaching experience.
“I was surprised as some of you were that they made the announcement they made that they wouldn’t pursue me,” Fisher said. “I don’t think they ever intended to. That’s fine. I respect it. I never thought of that or tried to compare the two opportunities. This was an opportunity that spoke to me right away. I was excited about that from the beginning.”
Fisher has extensive equity with Kobe Bryant and a large segment of the Lakers’ fan base stemmed from his five NBA championships and strong locker room presence. Despite his lack of head-coaching experience, it is possible Fisher could have helped the Lakers because of those facets. But the Lakers put a higher premium on head-coaching credentials to minimize any potential hiccups.
“There will be talk about my inexperience as a head coach. That’s factually true. I have not been a head coach in the NBA, college or high school,” Fisher said. “But I am experienced. Basketball is a game I’m experienced in.”
Fisher awaits plenty of challenges surrounding the Knicks.
Carmelo Anthony could opt out of his contract to become a free agent on July 1. New York faces several cap restrictions stemmed from a bloated payroll. The Knicks missed the playoffs last season. And skepticism persists whether owner James Dolan will give seasoned basketball minds, such as Jackson and Fisher, full autonomy to run the organization.
Still, Jackson acknowledged to some degree that he will help guide Fisher along through his first NBA season. After having vast experience under Jackson’s triangle offense and Zen-like philosophies, Fisher embraced the hands-on approach. He also decided his future rather quickly after his 18th NBA season ended last week once the San Antonio Spurs eliminated the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals.
“There’s no question that Phil’s presence here put me in a position to make a quicker decision as far as what would be next for me and my family and life,” Fisher said. “That was a huge part of it, not just the idea of working together as basketball people and make the team what it could be. Even if Phil and I didn’t have history together, the opportunity to work with and learn from one of the greatest basketball coaches and basketball minds we’ve ever seen, as a basketabll person, that’s an opportunity worth pursuing and exploring. Right away, I had to consider that piece of it.”
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