Derek Fisher, like the rest of us, is waiting.
He made his appeal to Carmelo Anthony last week. As a player, Fisher developed a reputation for his ability to command a locker room and motivate teammates with his speeches. Nick Collison, for one, said that’s what he’ll miss most about Fisher’s departure from the Thunder.
How much of an impact did Fisher leave on the young Thunder team? Kevin Durant gave him a glowing endorsement in a conversation with Carmelo while the two worked out in L.A. (why didn’t UCLA tweet about that?), according to our friend Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.
But right now, as a rookie coach, Fisher can only offer Melo hope. What could be. And what Fisher tried to sell to Melo was the promise that the 45-loss team the Knicks were last season – Melo’s first experience in the NBA on a team with a losing record and first on a team that didn’t make the playoffs – won’t happen again.
“I think it’s about winning, as far as I can gather,” Fisher said of Melo.
“He wants to win. He wants to be successful. And so in the time I had to visit with him, I shared with him that we will be a better basketball team because we will play the game in a better way. We’ll play as a team, we’ll play with the system, with the format and that allows the game to be easier for him and for his teammates. So I’m not sure if it hit home. I guess we’ll find out. Hopefully, we’ll find out soon.”
Fisher, like Phil Jackson, continues to push the standard that is expected to be in place by training camp in October.
The Knicks will have an identity, one that will be developed from the principles Jackson has been preaching since he took over the franchise. Melo’s greatest concern with the Knicks and what he experienced last season is that he had to carry so much of the burden himself on offense. Coincidentally, it’s the same concern LeBron James has with the Heat going forward.
Jackson and Fisher have tried to appeal to Melo by outlining the system of play – the basics of the Triangle Offense – and how it will alleviate a great deal of the burden.
“We’re not comfortable just setting up in a halfcourt situation, even though we feel we have one of the best halfcourt scorers in Carmelo,” Jackson said recently. “We know that basketball is a 94-foot game and you have to play it that way.”
In other words, it’s creating a balance on the court that not only promotes ball movement and player movement to create open shots, but a balance that doesn’t require a great effort in transition defense, as well.
There’s also an emphasis on an overlooked skill in the game: Footwork. It’s a big part of what makes Melo such a great scorer. As Jackson observed the Knicks over the last month of the season, that’s a part of his game that stood out the most. It also convinced him that he would thrive in the Triangle and be able to score with much less effort.
Fisher also spoke of footwork and how the Knicks will stress this area of the game in developing their young players.
“It’s so valuable to us and the system and format we will play,” Fisher said. “Footwork kind of sets the table for being able to do what you need to do to play with a purpose when you do have the basketball . . . The best players in the game, that you can think of, were all excellent in their footwork. So that’s something we’ll talk about a lot.”
Warning: The Triangle isn’t a plug-and-play system. It has a simple foundation, but endless options that rely on the creativity of the players and also the cohesiveness of the unit on the floor. So while we can expect to see it in the Summer League games, and it will be implemented in training camp, there is definitely an awkward stage early on.
“It’ll be challenging, we won’t look good at times,” Fisher said, “but this is going to be the way we will play.”
Fisher’s transformation from player to coach was complete on Monday night in Las Vegas when he boarded the team bus wearing team-issue khaki shorts and an orange shirt. That is the uniform of a coach. A lot of young faces looked back at him and reality hit home.
“It’s your first practice as head coach of the New York Knicks,” he said. “That meant a lot to me.”
Fisher, who, as expected, officially added Kurt Rambis as associate head coach Monday (and is expected to add at least three more coaches soon), confirmed that he will coach the Knicks’ Summer League team. General practice is for an assistant to run the Summer League squad, while the head coach watches from the stands and evaluates players. But often rookie coaches take the helm in the summer to get their feet wet. Jason Kidd did it last summer with the Nets, as did Steve Clifford with the Bobcats.
“I’m excited to get after it,” he said. “To have this opportunity to be the head coach of the New York Knicks. I mean, why wait? It’s the Summer League, but it’s still part of the NBA, part of professional basketball. As coaches we have to be examples to our players that all of this matters. So I wanted to be here and I’m looking forward to it.”
AROUND THE NBA
- LeBron James is scheduled to meet with the hierarchy of the Miami Heat Wednesday in Las Vegas. The prevailing belief is that James will inform the Heat of his intentions to re-sign or go elsewhere. Reports suggest that he is considering a move back to his original team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, though indications I’ve gotten are that the Cavs may be mainly a leverage play for LeBron.
- Speaking of LeBron and rumors about the Knicks trying to clear salary cap space for greater ambitions this summer, recall something Jackson said on Draft night about moving salaries to become bigger players in the free agent market: “That’s a very difficult task. Those things I really couldn’t even talk about because we have many handicaps, obviously, with our salary cap being what it is. But, you know, there’s always a possibility. We’re not going to rule ourselves out of any gambit that could put us in the chance to really do something special.” Read that last line again.
- But if James does stay with the Heat, expect Chris Bosh to return to Miami as well, despite a reported four-year, nearly $90 million offer from the Houston Rockets, his hometown team.
- The Cavaliers are not sitting idly by and launched their move for LeBron Wednesday. According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, Cleveland will reportedly shed contracts of Jarrett Jack, Tyler Zeller and Sergey Karasev in a three-team deal with Brooklyn and Boston. If all goes according to plan, the Cavs will have enough cap room to offer LeBron a max contract, according to TNT’s David Aldridge.
- All this talk about star players taking less to help franchise’s afford adding other stars and yet free agency also sees some crazy money being thrown around at the second tier. Consider that Gordon Hayward, whose potential is still impossible to identify after a non-descript start in Utah, is reportedly going to get a four-year, $63 million offer sheet from the Charlotte Hornets. And the Jazz are fully prepared to match it. Hayward has talent, but is he a $15 million a year player? Not yet. (By the way, it’s pronounced Gor-DON).
- Greg Monroe is another intriguing restricted free agent, but the Pistons are also expected to match anything he gets on the open market. New team president/coach Stan Van Gundy affirmed his intentions about keeping Monroe to NBA.com this week. “We want him back,” Van Gundy said, “and we haven’t wavered on that at all.” SVG also refuted a report that Monroe wanted the maddening Josh Smith out of Detroit and threatened to just sign his one-year qualifying offer and head into unrestricted free agency next summer.
- There is great potential at the top of this year’s draft class, but one pick that was a head-scratcher for me in the Top-5 was Aaron Gordon, whom the Magic took at No. 4 overall. Gordon is an outstanding athlete with special God-given physical ability that, if in the right situation, could be a very nice role player at the NBA level. But his offensive game and footwork (there’s that word again) are extremely raw. You wonder if he was ever properly coached at the youth level or did he just rely on his athleticism and size? Watching him a few games in the Orlando version of the NBA Summer League, it’s clear he has a ways to go to live up to 4th overall pick expectations. What gives me hope for Gordon is his work-ethic. Now, it’s up to the Magic to properly develop his game and utilize his strengths.
- Meanwhile, Efrid Payton, the 10th overall pick whom the Magic acquired from the 76ers on Draft night, looks very impressive. Payton, from Louisiana-Lafayette, has good size and can explode to the rim and finish against bigs, which is so critical for a point guard now in these days of pick-and-roll spread offenses. Only thing this kid needs is a haircut.
I’m off to Las Vegas tonight to prepare for the NBA Summer League. Don’t forget the Knicks first game is Friday at 4 p.m. ET. Mike Crispino, Walt Frazier, Larry Johnson and I will have full coverage of the Knicks Summer League games on MSG Network. And yes, we will have replays later in the evening if you forget to set your DVR. No #TieGame in Vegas, by the way. We rock the #golfshirtswag instead. Critiques are welcome, but there’s only so much you can do with a blue golf shirt.