New York Knicks head coach Derek Fisher will face his former team, the Los Angeles Lakers, Sunday at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
The two men once became pretty accustomed toward hoisting up NBA trophies with their hands and flashing championship rings on their fingers. But there Lakers coach Byron Scott and New York Knicks coach Derek Fisher stood on the same sideline two months ago sharing another thing in common that hardly makes either proud.
Both of their respective teams rank among the worst in the NBA. So after holding Fisher in high esteem since mentoring him his rookie season 19 years ago, Scott offered him some support.
“I told him, ‘Hang in there,’” Scott recalled. “‘I’ve been there and I know exactly what you’re going through and it’s going to get better.’”
Things got better for one night as the Knicks cruised to a double-digit victory over the Lakers. But that’s not saying much. The Lakers (17-46) enter Thursday’s game against the New York Knicks (12-51) at Staples Center owning the NBA’s fourth-worst record. The Knicks have the NBA’s worst record, making this game providing only implications only for maximizing their chances in striking it rich at the NBA Draft lottery.
There also remains intrigue because the Knicks feature plenty of former Lakers. Phil Jackson is in his first season as the Knicks president after winning five of his 11 NBA championships coaching the Lakers. Fisher is coaching the Knicks after winning all five of his NBA titles under Jackson’s Lakers. Kurt Rambis, Jim Cleamons and Rasheed Hazzard both represented Fisher’s current assistants and part of Jackson’s previous coaching staffs.
“It says the Knicks know exactly what they’re doing,” Scot said. “You have Phil, one of the greatest coaches, if not the greatest coach to coach this game. You have one of the great winners in the game in Derek Fisher as head coach. So I think anytime they’re plucking people from the organization, that says a lot about the organization.”
Perhaps. But the Knicks have not received a quick investment on their return.
The Knicks went through a stretch this season when they lost a franchise-record 16 consecutive games. Carmelo Anthony became limited this season on an injured left knee before shutting down after the NBA All-Star break. In a move that sparked nearly universal criticism, Jackson traded All-Star center Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to the Dallas Mavericks last offseason for Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert and Shane Larkin. Jackson later waived Dalembert and traded J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert in a three-team deal with Oklahoma City and Cleveland, a move that secured them a 2019 second-round pick and loads of cap space for next offseason. The Knicks also bought out Amare Stoudemire’s contract.
“I’m wondering if he’s doing the same things I did my rookie year [coaching] where he’s throwing things at chalkboards and screaming and yelling and kicking chairs,” said Scott, recalling his first year coaching the former New Jersey Nets in 2000. “I think he’s probably a lot calmer than I was. He had the Zen Master here. I didn’t have that calmness about me my rookie year as a coach. I kind of let everything out.”
“A patience level is good with the appropriate things,” Fisher said. “I’m not going to be patient with a lack of effort or lack of intensity or guys not being committed to the team. But I’ll be patient with the process we’re going through. We’re just getting that started. I’m not on a combustible level because we’re struggling right now. Everything has a purpose. We’ll look back on this and know there were certain things we had to endure.”
Scott believes that will happen, gushing that Fisher’s toughness and intelligence as an unproven Lakers rookie will eventually translate into the coaching realm. Fisher cemented a legacy in his 18-year NBA career, the majority with the Lakers, that entailed hitting clutch shots, providing hustle plays and exerting locker room leadership. But this marks Fisher’s first NBA head-coaching stint and he had no previous coaching experience at any level elsewhere.
“I knew whatever Fish wanted to do, he’d be able to do it,” Scott said. “Whether it’s coaching, front office, whatever he wanted to do when basketball was over and his playing days were over, I knew he would accomplish that.”
Scott then shared tales about Fisher’s unyielding practice intensity with him and fellow rookie Kobe Bryant.
“I witnessed them going at each other, but never to the point where it almost got to blows,” Scott said. But if you ask Kobe, he respects Derek as much as he respects anybody because of the fact they’re so much alike.”
So much alike that Scott maintained that the Lakers’ second unit that featured himself, Fisher and Bryant usually won in pickup games against the Lakers’ starters that included the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones.
“All I can remember was Nick and Eddie saying, ‘Why don’t you guys take it easy today?’” Scott said laughing. “They were always getting after them, and a lot of that was D-Fish and Kobe. I know when we started the game, they’d be beating us like six or eight points because we had nobody for Shaq. As soon as he went out, we destroyed them.”
If only turning around the Knicks could be as instantaneous.
“I don’t know if you can put a timeline on building something successful and sustainable,” Fisher said. “We live in a society where things are more instant now than they used to be. But becoming great is not an overnight thing. I don’t know if we can somehow get to next season and say we’re supposed to win a championship. We’re at the very bottom and at the ground level here in the type of work we need to do to turn this thing around. We have to continue to evaluate everything that we’re doing as an organization to make sure those things are a priority as well.”
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