Schmeelk: Despite Knicks’ Awful Record, Derek Fisher Is Making Progress

When Phil Jackson decided to hire Derek Fisherprior to this season, everyone knew there were going to be speed bumps along the way for a first-year head coach who had never even been an assistant before. Those bumps have been more like lunar craters, with the Knicks starting 5-22. With expectations low this year, it was logical for Fisher to make his mistakes before the team became championship-caliber.

And there have been plenty of mistakes. He hasn’t gotten this group to play any sort of defense. He cannot settle on a starting lineup, or even a consistent rotation that could help the team form some continuity. There have been some strategic in-game blunders. But perhaps most of all, Fisher has let his instincts as a former player take over when dealing with the losses.

Very rarely has he done anything during the game, or in his dealings with the media, to truly show any disgust with how bad the team has been playing. That’s not a bad thing when you have a team of professionals that understand what it takes to win games. But the Knicks are about the furthest from that as you can be in the NBA.
That finally changed on Tuesday night when Fisher pulled a Jeff Van Gundy. At the 5:20 mark in the first quarter, the Knicks had already allowed 26 points and trailed by 15. The team played no defense. The Mavericks were shooting almost 80 percent from the field. So Fisher subbed out the entire starting lineup, and the Knicks proceeded to cut the lead down to four just under two minutes into the second quarter.

That’s accountability. It was something lacking under Mike Woodson, and it needed to be reintroduced to the franchise in the most important way. Did it embarrass the players? Probably. But that’s a good thing. Sometimes when players are showing no effort, enthusiasm or fight they need to be embarrassed a little bit. That’s how you motivate people. It was the right stand for Fisher to take at the right time. As a player, he always played with maximum effort, especially on defense, and it must drive him nuts to see guys just go through the motions on that end of the floor.

Fisher might have also begun to realize the error of his ways in his insistence of playing the big lineup. Even though he still started Quincy Acy — who probably shouldn’t play at all) — he went with the small lineup, with Carmelo Anthony at power forward, far more often. Like last year, and the year prior, those lineups have been far more successful than the ones with Anthony at small forward. The game against Chicago will be a good judge as to whether he is beginning to figure that out himself.

Even though the team hasn’t turned it around, it is a positive sign that Fisher appears to be showing some growth. It gives Knicks fans some hope that when he actually has talented players in his huddle, Fisher might be able to coach a winner.

Schmeelk’s Snippets

– I have no doubt that Jackson is making calls all over the league, trying to turn over this roster. Here’s the problem: He doesn’t want to sacrifice cap space by trading expiring contracts. The second problem is also simple: The guys with longer-term contracts are all playing terribly.

J.R. Smith is hurt, which probably hurts his value less became teams aren’t seeing him play awful basketball. Tim Hardaway Jr., though starting, is in a shooting slump. Jose Calderon is near career-lows in all categories. Who would want those guys?

Smith and Calderon make a combined $13.8 million next season. Jackson will not have an easy time of it. The easiest, simple plan is, “Don’t make a trade unless you reduce the 2015 salary-cap number or add a first round pick.”
It’s really that simple.

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