Former New York Knicks head coach Derek Fisher took his lessons learned in a failed NBA stint to the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks.
The New York Knicks have cycled through head coaches over the past decade. From Mike D’Antoni to Mike Woodson, Jeff Hornacek, Kurt Rambis and now David Fizdale, the man leading the bench have changed without hesitation when seasons go awry at Madison Square Garden.
Derek Fisher was in the midst of this group of coaches. He arrived as a first-time helmer on the bench, retiring from the NBA for this role. While a veteran of the 2000s and on multiple championship teams, it proved to be a difficult tenure as Phil Jackson‘s first hire as president of basketball operations.
In 136 games, Fisher finished with a 40-96 record, including a franchise-worst 17-65 record in 2014-15. He was fired midseason in 2015-16.
Now, Fisher is the head coach of the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks. While early in his stint, the 44 year old has taken lessons learned from the NBA into this new job, per the AP’s Doug Feinberg:
"“When I got to New York as coach of the Knicks leaving the playing court I tried to create some distance between being the player and the coach,” he said. “At times, I needed to be closer to the individual players in terms of building relationships and having conversations and not feeling like I’m overstepping by trying to be closer to my players. That was a mistake in a sense because players need the personal relationship and connection with their head coach so that they can trust him."
Although Fisher’s tenure with the Knicks was controversial, especially with his off-court spat with Matt Barnes, learning in this second chance is a positive. He can succeed as a communicator and work that into a longer tenure as a basketball head coach.
On-court record obviously also matters, and Fisher needs that to maintain a bench-leading run. 17-65 won’t cut it. Neither will falling apart from a healthy early-season start, which happened in his second and final year with the Knicks.
Fisher’s hiring was representative of Jackson’s tenure of decisions that never panned out. It was a gamble on someone close to the NBA for years, who never coached a game. Steve Kerr was a target in that 2014 period, but he went to the Golden State Warriors and might have a fourth championship ahead this month.
Fisher is no longer in that type of situation. Success is available for him in the WNBA, and the chance to redeem two disappointing years with the New York Knicks. It will take longer than one season and fewer Matt Barnes incidents, so the five-time champion has a road to travel to recover his post-playing career.