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Derek Fisher begins Knicks coaching career preaching defense

New York Knicks coach Derek Fisher directs practice

New York Knicks coach Derek Fisher directs practice at the team's training camp at the U.S. Military Academy on Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014, in West Point, N.Y. Credit: AP

WEST POINT, N.Y. - The setting was optimal for what Derek Fisher wanted to get across to the Knicks in his first practice as an NBA coach.

Fisher stressed hard work, sacrifice, being selfless, sticking together and doing for each other before, during and after the Knicks practiced at Cristl Arena on the campus of the United States Military Academy.

Soon enough, Fisher will get to the ballyhooed triangle offense, but he didn't spend one minute on it Tuesday. Fisher taught defense the entire 21/2-hour practice, as he tried to set the tone for what he expects from the Knicks this season.

"We built our defensive foundation," Fisher said. "That's really where we have to anchor ourselves is on the defensive end.

"Starting out and through the season there will be a lot of talk about who we are offensively and what we're trying to do on the offensive end in terms of running the triangle. But defense is the anchor. That's the foundation to all good and great teams. So we spent two- and-a-half hours on defense. We didn't do one triangle-specific drill of any kind today."

Fisher, a five-time NBA champion who ended his playing career in May with the Thunder, said "meaningful would be an understatement" to describe how it felt to run his first practice. But he got his message across.

"Fish's message is very clear the way he wants us to play," Carmelo Anthony said. "Our focus today was total 'D', 100 percent defensive-minded today, not so much on schemes and X's and O's, but trusting one another on the defensive end, talking to one another, communicating, being there for our teammates, being in sync with everybody out there on the basketball court."

The Knicks didn't have that last season and finished 37-45. J.R. Smith said instead of forcing people to the middle like last year, Fisher wants the Knicks to push everything to the sideline.

"That right there is a mindset that eliminates people not helping and who is supposed to be where and what," Smith said.

Last year's struggles led to Phil Jackson being hired as president and he ultimately brought in Fisher, his former point guard with the Lakers.

Jackson sat in a chair against the bleachers and let Fisher and his coaching staff do all of the talking during practice.

"Phil kind of sat on the sideline and observed," Anthony said. "Derek ran the practice. His message was clear: We walked in this door together, we're going to win together, we're going to lose together, but we're going to have each other's back through thick and thin.

"That's what we got to have. That's the mindset we got to have. He instilled that in us for the first couple of minutes of practice."

Anthony was asked if Fisher had to earn the players' respect because he's a first-time coach. He said several times, "He got it."

Fisher naturally was among those who addressed the team at dinner Monday night, and he spoke about what he wanted to accomplish and didn't lose sight of where he was.

"We spent some time [Monday] night as a group, just reflecting on the history of this team, the history of this organization, the great accomplishments and success of the past and how it is we all can work together in a sense not to recreate that but create something special of our own.

"So to be able to be a coach now with the New York Knicks, starting practice first day here at West Point where a service to others and commitment to others and putting the team first is who these guys are. Those are the things we want to be going forward in New York."

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