The Firing of Derek Fisher
*Photo via USA Today
Prior to recent events, if someone were to play the “word association” game with you and the name Derek Fisher surfaced, what words would you think of? My top three words would be Honorable, Honest, and most significantly, Champion.
These three words have followed Fisher throughout his career. He’s been class personified. Every teammate, including some of the NBA’s most notable, have described the Little Rock, Arkansas native as their BEST teammate ever.
“He’s a smart guy, smart mind,” Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant said when Fisher was being considered for the New York Knicks head coaching vacancy. “He’s a great motivator, great speaker, he can really relate to a lot of guys, and demands that respect from everybody," "He's a great locker room guy. I'm sure he'll do a great job." Durant told the New York Post, via ESPN.com.
Back in 2013, Kobe Bryant -- who won five championships with Derek Fisher -- according to Bleacherreport.com and Yahoo.com said, “My all-time favorite teammate has always been Derek Fisher. He’s been my favorite teammate.”
Veteran forward Nick Collison, who played with Fisher in OKC, was also fond of Fisher. “He’s unique, one-of-a-kind,” “The only guy I ever played with who can address the team in a way as a leader. He's able to address the team more so than anybody I’ve played with, and he backs it up on the court too," Collison told the New York Post via ESPN.com.
Throughout his career, D-Fish has been the consummate professional and many believed it would carry over to his head coaching job with the New York Knicks, after retiring as a player in 2014. But Fisher’s first season hasn’t gone well in New York, and the Knicks finished with a franchise worst record last season -- winning just 17 games -- while losing Carmelo Anthony (their best player) to mid-season knee surgery.
However, the disastrous 2014-15 season actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The Knicks were granted the 4th pick overall in the 2015 NBA draft, which resulted in Phil Jackson’s brilliant selection of Kristaps Porzingis.
Porzingis was originally the target of criticism for being an unknown, lanky 7’3 European basketball player. But he has exploded onto the NBA scene, and is currently the second most significant player on the Knicks; outside of Carmelo Anthony, while producing double-doubles and one put-back dunk at a time.
Jackson also drafted Jerian Grant – via a draft-day trade -- and signed Aaron Afflalo, Robin Lopez, Derrick Williams, Kyle O’Quinn and Lance Thomas. Each have played a big part in making the Knicks a respectable team this season.
The team improved their record to 22-22 following an overtime win against the Utah Jazz in mid-January (118-111), but the season has gone south ever since. They went on to lose 10 of their next 11 games, which led to the firing of Derek Fisher.
*Photo via USA Today
“Its nine losses out of the last ten games. It’s the business of winning. There were games where we didn’t get off to a very good start recently.” “I think Derek was prepared. I think he took this business seriously. I think he was a dedicated worker, so some of that onus is on the players, and I let them know that today.”, said Jackson in regards to Fishers’ dismissal.
Jackson did not react to Fishers’ comments regarding the playoffs, and said that the situation with Memphis Grizzlies player Matt Barnes had nothing to do with the firing. He added that the decision was primarily based on the fact that he thought the players could be playing better.
But…was Jackson telling the whole truth?
Yahoosports.com reported that Fisher flew to California -- during the middle of the Knicks training camp -- to visit a woman (allegedly his girlfriend) who was formerly involved with Matt Barnes.
Once teammates and friends, Fisher and Barnes would engage in back-and-forth shenanigans this season, which may have overshadowed the Knicks locker room, and brought Fisher’s integrity into question with the players. Fisher would also miss a practice.
But it doesn’t end there…
Fisher has also allegedly been linked to the girlfriends of Knicks player Cleanthony Early (according to thebiglead.com), as well as former Knicks player Tim Hardaway Jr., who was traded on draft night (2015).
“As a young NBA coach, the fastest path to losing a locker room comes this way. Behave like a player,” Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoosports.com wrote. In addition to losing the locker-room with his off-the-court behavior, Fisher’s on-the-court decisions were also a factor.
His discombobulated rotations and revolving player-roles did not go over well in the locker-room, and Wojnarowski also reported that players questioned where they fit into the system, and that Jackson had concerns on the impact it was having on their development.
Derek Fisher duped Phil Jackson, the New York Knicks organization, and their fans. He was hired and trusted because it was believed that he is a quality individual. However, he wasn’t and the Knicks are paying the price.
However, I’ve learned something from Fisher’s short coaching stint with the Knicks. It’s taught me that a person can appear one-way on the surface, while in actuality they may have private flaws. Fisher is just like the rest of us. He’s human.
He made some mistakes…some bad ones.
The New York Knicks are in the business of recovering from a decade of being the laughing stock of the NBA, and Derek Fisher’s place in their franchise history has not helped. Not one bit.