Former Knicks coach Derek Fisher said it was difficult to work under team president Phil Jackson in an extensive interview with Bleacher Report published on Monday.
Fisher said their inexperience as a first-time coach and first-time president led to a short relationship. Fisher was fired after a season and a half with a 40-96 record.
“We both didn’t know exactly what we were doing,” said Fisher, now a Lakers in-studio TV analyst. “Being the head coach is not like playing. Being president is not like being the head coach. That’s one of the reasons why we didn’t quite complete our meshing and blending of talents and thoughts, because those two positions are not always aligned.”
The Knicks, who still are paying Fisher, had no comment.
Fisher said Jackson’s presence and insistence on running the triangle offense made it challenging for the players to understand who was coaching the team.
“One of the challenges for all of us was we were in the basketball department under the umbrella of Phil Jackson and who he was and who he is and what he was able to do as coach and leader,” Fisher said. “Then [when you’re] asking me as a head coach in a sense not to create the same results, but take the same system or way of playing and try and teach these guys how to play it — and utilize it in similar ways as when he taught it — I think at times it was more challenging for our players to really understand ‘who am I committing myself to? Who am I selling myself to? Who am I running through the brick wall for?’ ”
Fisher, nearing the one-year anniversary of his firing, opened up to Bleacher Report about his time as the Knicks’ coach. He said he and his staff deserve some credit for Kristaps Porzingis’ development and that he had the team further along with less talent than current coach Jeff Hornacek does this season with better players.
Fisher talked extensively about Jackson, who won a record 11 NBA championships as a coach. Fisher went right from being a player to becoming Jackson’s first coaching hire after Steve Kerr turned him down and decided to coach the Warriors.
Fisher said it was difficult to follow in Jackson’s footsteps. But in stating why he took the job and didn’t pursue other opportunities, whether in broadcasting or the business world, Fisher said he ultimately learned that the Knicks have a lot of cracks in their foundation.
“When we’re young, sometimes we’re quick to go after the first or the newest or the shiniest opportunity that is in front of us, because we don’t quite know any better,” Fisher said of the Knicks. “The prettiest girl, the shiniest car, the best-looking house. Then once we open the door and walk inside the house, we realize the walls aren’t painted, the foundation’s cracked, the plumbing is leaking in the backyard and the pool is about to collapse.
“You don’t see those things or you don’t have a feel for the idea that you kind of have to inspect all of that before you decide to buy that house.”
Fisher contends the Knicks were moving in a positive direction under him but it was “overshadowed” by his personal life. Fisher was involved in a relationship with Matt Barnes’ estranged wife, resulting in a much-publicized fight in Los Angeles that led to Fisher’s failure to return to New York in time for a practice.
“We were doing a lot of really good things with the Knicks,” Fisher said. “That’s what bothers me. The good that was being done got overshadowed by opinion, actually — inaccurate opinion about a personal matter. Nobody really knows what happened, because there’s been just noise about what happened.”
Fisher was fired last season with the Knicks at 23-31 and was replaced by Kurt Rambis. Fisher went away from the triangle, which contributed to his dismissal. When Rambis took over, he went back to the triangle offense almost exclusively.
Hornacek was hired in June and followed Jackson’s wishes of running the triangle at the start of the season. After a team meeting in which players expressed their concerns to Jackson and Hornacek, the triangle is being run much less. The Knicks are 21-28 under Hornacek.
“We were able to take a team that wasn’t as talented as the team they have now, and we were much better and much further along than this group is that they have now, because the foundation was being laid,” Fisher said. “That’s different than just trying to coach basketball — and it takes longer. That’s the part that you can’t measure in wins and losses, either. That’s what we were doing the best at.”
Fisher said Porzingis already was on the path to being a good player but that his staff helped push him along.
“I know what was going on,” Fisher said. “I know day to day the work that was being done. I know what we deposited into Kristaps Porzingis that is coming out this year. He isn’t where he is now by himself. He deserves all the credit, but what we were helping him do for himself — that matters.”