MILWAUKEE -- The return of Carmelo Anthony from knee surgery and the dawn of the Kristaps Porzingis era are among the subplots tonight when the Knicks tip off the season against the Bucks. But eyes are on Derek Fisher, too.
Knicks president Phil Jackson touted Fisher as a boy wonder when he hired him last summer with no coaching experience on his resume. That resume now includes five championships as a player and the lowest winning percentage of any Knicks coach after last year's team went a franchise-worst 17-65.
Throughout camp, Fisher has tried to deflect attention from himself, saying it's about the players. Since the 14 players on the roster essentially were hand-picked by Jackson and Fisher, it won't reflect well on either man if the Knicks don't show marked improvement.
But Fisher has the utmost confidence in himself and said he feels much more comfortable than he did a year ago at this time.
"I understand a lot more although there are obviously coaches that understand a million times more than I do," Fisher said before the Knicks flew to Milwaukee. "I feel more comfortable in terms of the things that we need to focus on and be prepared for when the season starts. But I don't play so it's really more so about our team and where they are and where is their confidence level as a team.
"I think it's pretty solid right now. But you never know who you really are until you get punched in the mouth. When we get punched in the mouth, that's when we'll find out who we are."
The Knicks likely will face adversity and have to overcome plenty to prove noted antagonist Charles Barkley right. The TNT analyst guarantees the Knicks will make the playoffs. Other national publications have them among the East's worst teams again.
"We believe in ourselves and that's all that matters," Anthony said. "We know what we can be. We know the work that we put in. We know what kind of guys we got and what kind of team we got."
Jackson surrounded Anthony with players with a defensive mentality: center Robin Lopez, shooting guard Arron Afflalo and big man Kyle O'Quinn. The Knicks also added Derrick Williams, Sasha Vujacic, Kevin Seraphin and drafted Porzingis and Jerian Grant.
"Everybody is motivated," Porzingis said. "We want to have a great season."
Afflalo (strained left hamstring), Seraphin (sore right knee) and Lou Amundson (sore lower back) are doubtful for Wednesday night's game. Fisher could start Vujacic for Afflalo, along with Jose Calderon, Anthony, Porzingis and Lopez. The Knicks are deeper than in previous years and that could prove helpful since they open with a back-to-back and five games in eight nights, all against teams that made the playoff last season. "I'm not worried about where we're going to end up," Fisher said. "For me, it's just about the process. I think our team is focused on the process. And the results and the playoffs and all that stuff will take care of itself for us.
"We have a really challenging schedule to begin with. We're going to find out a lot about who we are now right from the start. Regardless of the results we'll know how much more we have to go to get where we're trying to go."
The same could apply to Fisher. Notes & quotes: The Bucks are without starting forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (suspended one game for a flagrant foul in the playoffs) and key reserve O.J. Mayo (hamstring).