After weeks of endless speculation and a very high-profile disappointment, the New York Knicks have finally found their next head coach.
Derek Fisher, who played his last NBA game just nine days ago when his Oklahoma City Thunder were eliminated by the San Antonio Spurs, is expected to be introduced at a press conference this morning. According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, the deal is for $25 million over five years.
The announcement comes just weeks after Steve Kerr spurned New York to join the Golden State Warriors for a deal also worth $25 million over five years. Fisher can revel in the fact that his contract is basically double that of fellow former point guard and rookie coach Jason Kidd in Brooklyn, while Knicks fans can breathe a sigh of relief that their next head coach will not be Rick Fox.
From the outset, Jackson made it clear that he was looking for candidates with whom he had personal relationships and who were very familiar with his vaunted triangle offense. Kerr played under Jackson for five seasons on the Chicago Bulls, while Fisher had nine years of the Zen Master's tutelage on the Los Angeles Lakers, where they won five championships together.
The deal offers a bit of redemption for Jackson, whose credibility took a hit after losing his top choice. In the weeks since, he has campaigned heavily for Fisher to join the Knicks; the league fined him $25,000 for violating its anti-tampering rules with public comments made while the Thunder were still in the playoffs.
Despite having no coaching experience and being a consolation prize, Fisher could ultimately be a better choice for Jackson. If you believe (as I do) that it's just a matter of time until Jackson decides he wants to coach the Knicks himself, it would be a lot easier to sell that idea if the guy he's replacing wasn't his first choice.
In the more immediate future, Fisher's lack of experience is exactly what Jackson was looking for: to groom a coach from the start and maintain as much control over the team as possible. That's really the most important point here -- the rest is a sea of unknowns. Basketball writers like to tout Fisher's leadership, having served as president of the NBA Players Association and calling for the investigation that uncovered NBPA executive director Billy Hunter's scandal involving nepotism and misuse of funds, a revelation that shocked no one. But that move was also a counterattack after the union's executive committee voted unanimously to oust Fisher. He refused to step down and turned the spotlight on Hunter.
Fisher indeed earned many players' respect after representing their interests in negotiations during the 2011 lockout. But some, like now-retired Jerry Stackhouse, fault him for making too many concessions to owners and hold him equally culpable for Hunter's indiscretions on his watch.
As far as personnel decisions, Fisher will have to mostly defer to Jackson, but given the Knicks' spectacular lack of cap space to work with, he's not missing much. His first task -- the top item on every Knick official's agenda now that the coaching slot has been filled -- will be convincing Carmelo Anthony to stay in New York. It will also be interesting to see if Fisher's history with former Lakers teammate Lamar Odom affects Odom's chances of making the team. The Knicks signed Odom to a non-guaranteed contract through the 2014-15 season -- though whether it's the first step of his comeback journey or a calculated, borderline-cruel "salary-cap measure" remains to be seen.
Then, of course, there's Fisher's relationship with Kevin Durant, who will be a free agent in 2016, after Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler's huge salaries come off the books. Last month, Durant asserted his Thunder teammate would "without a doubt" make an excellent coach: "He's a smart guy, smart mind. He's a great motivator, great speaker and can really relate to a lot of guys and demands that respect from everybody. He's a great locker-room guy. I'm sure he'll do a great job."
Maybe Fisher can capitalize on those sentiments and bring Durant to New York. Don't say Knicks fans aren't dreamers.
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