Fisher must develop his own voice
New Knicks coach lives in the long shadow of team president Phil Jackson
Phil Jackson's surprisingly public search for a head coach has reportedly come to an end, with Derek Fisher reportedly agreeing to a five-year, $25 million deal to man the sidelines for the New York Knicks. If those contract terms sound familiar, it's because they are the same as those that Jackson's initial target, Steve Kerr, got from the Golden State Warriors. That's appropriate symmetry, because the respective fortunes of Kerr and Fisher are going to be linked as long as they remain in their new positions -- the guy Phil wanted against the guy Phil got.
Fisher brings many of the same qualities to the Knicks that made Kerr an attractive candidate. He has a long history with his new boss as a member of five of the 11 championship teams Jackson coached. He's a fresh face in coaching circles, thus theoretically should be malleable to whatever philosophies Jackson insists on implementing. Fisher has long been one of the league's most respected players -- Kobe Bryant has called him his favorite teammate -- and he tacked on several seasons to an already solid career by filling the elusive role as "veteran locker room presence" for some terrific teams in Oklahoma City. Like Kerr, a broadcast analyst working national games for TNT, Fisher is no stranger to the media spotlight after serving as the president of the National Basketball Players Association during the 2011 lockout.
Paul Silas, Jason Kidd, and Don Nelson are among the few recent coaches to move directly from playing to coaching, and generally the results have been pretty good. That it doesn't happen more often tells you that teams typically want a prospective coach to have served an apprenticeship, and it's a rare personality who is given a chance to skip over that process. Fisher has learned from his past coaches, such as Jackson, Scott Brooks, Rick Carlisle and Jerry Sloan, but he's a wild card -- an unknown with a familiar face, in other words. Fisher has every quality you look at in a coach except experience, and luckily for him, his new profession is a meritocracy. If he wins, no one will care that he didn't train as an assistant. Besides, a lack of baggage is often a good thing.
The key question now becomes this: Will Fisher actually be a de facto assistant, merely a Phil puppet with the title of head coach?
To read Bradford Doolittle's full reaction to Derek Fisher being named head coach of the New York Knicks, you must be an ESPN Insider.