As head coaches go, I was never a fan of recently-fired Derek Fisher of the New York Knicks. Giving a guy $25 million to coach a team just a few months after he himself was playing in the playoffs is sort of like your mom suggesting a three-week long family vacation: very ambitious.
Still, he wasn’t a total mess. It’s worth wondering: was the Fisher firing warranted?
Last year was a mess, but it was expected to be. Finishing with a 17-65 record was, of course, embarrassing, but science could have reincarnated Red Auerbach and the Knicks still would have missed the playoffs. They started Samuel Dalembert in 21 games, for goodness’ sake — the roster, something Fisher couldn’t control, was simply terrible.
Leading a roster that featured more legitimate NBA players, Fisher came into this season with a bit more hope. It started off better than most could have expected. In their first 44 games, the Knicks finished with a record of 22-22 — fairly impressive for Fisher — and it had a lot of optimistic Knicks fans thinking about the playoffs. In terms of advanced stats, Fisher led the Knicks to a 102.7 offensive rating (an estimate of points scored per 100 possessions) and a 103.8 defensive rating (an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions). That gave the Knicks a net rating for -1.1 (the Warriors’ is +12.6), which would put them in the middle of the league. Although not perfect, this was encouraging considering the Knicks’ net rating last season was -10.1.
Fisher’s real blunders occurred over the last 10 games, which killed the Knicks’ chances at a playoff birth. The team has gone 1-9 and had a 98.7 offensive rating and a 107.3 defensive rating, giving them with an awful -8.6 net rating. To put that in perspective, the 14-39 Brooklyn Nets have a net rating of -7.6 this season, so to say the Knicks have been awful over the past 10 games is an understatement.
In Fisher’s defense, the Knicks’ opponents over that 10-game stretch were the Grizzlies, Pistons, Celtics, Warriors, Raptors, Thunder and Clippers. It’s also worth nothing that Carmelo Anthony, still far and away the best player on the team, missed three of those games.
So, back to the question: was the firing warranted? Fisher was only given 54 games to coach a real NBA team, and even that team isn’t very good. You can also look at it from the other side and say his work during those 54 games was subpar. Fisher is also not a great play-caller. Some of his decisions late in games and after timeouts have left a lot of people scratching their heads.
Overall, I am a fan of the firing. I think Phil Jackson looked at Fisher and saw no future with him as coach of a team that finally has a franchise player, Kristaps Porzingis, on its roster, so he pulled the plug. This also sends a message to the fans and players that this team is incredibly serious about it’s future. The rebuild is over, and they aren’t going to retain players or coaches that won’t help them win now. Today is a good day to be a Knicks fan, and hopefully the new hire (please let it be Tom Thibodeau) will make tomorrow even better.