New York Knicks coach Derek Fisher was fired Monday, with his team having lost five straight and nine of 10 to fall well back in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
“It’s time for us to make a change, turn this team around and move forward and get some wins and keep going down the road we had started here at the beginning of the year,” Knicks president Phil Jackson said at the team’s practice facility.
Associate head coach Kurt Rambis was promoted to interim head coach at least through the rest of the season. Rambis, like Fisher an ex-Laker player and a former assistant under Jackson, went 56-145 in two seasons as Minnesota’s coach and part of a season leading the Lakers.
The Knicks have fallen to 23-31, dropping Fisher’s overall record to 40-96. Jackson hired Fisher in June 2014, just weeks after the point guard was done playing.
“It’s a huge transition from being a player to a coach at any point in time, let alone the season after you retire from playing. So it was a very difficult situation, regardless of where he coached,” Rambis said.
“This is a historic franchise and this is a franchise and a fan base that’s used to winning and he started the process, and it won’t be finished and it may not be finished with the next two coaches that are coming in, but I think he was laying the foundation of doing things the right way and turning this franchise around.”
But Fisher wasn’t winning lately, and though Jackson praised his work ethic, he had seen enough of the Knicks’ slow starts and faulty finishes.
Jackson also questioned whether Fisher took advantage of the experienced assistants Jackson hired to work with him, such as Rambis and Jim Cleamons. Jackson, who won an NBA-record 11 championships as a coach, also told Fisher he may not have mentored him as well as he could have.
“There wasn’t really a consensus in our staff. We decided we need to have really good consensus in the working staff, interchanging of ideas and communication,” Jackson said.
The Knicks went 17-65 last season but upgraded their roster during the summer with the drafting of Kristaps Porzingis and the signing of veterans Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez.
Fisher then got off to an embarrassing start this season during training camp. He was involved in a fight with Memphis Grizzlies forward and former teammate Matt Barnes when he was at the home of Barnes’ estranged wife in California.
“No one’s happy about how that happened and what came out of that,” Jackson said. “That was embarrassing for us and for Derek, but that had no nothing to do with what’s happened here today.”
Kobe Bryant, a teammate of Fisher when the Lakers were winning a bunch of NBA titles, said being let go “is part of the job.
“He’ll go on to be a coach again,” Bryant said before Monday night’s game at Indiana. “I know he likes teaching the game. I know he likes being around the game, so I’m sure he’ll be coaching again.”
The Knicks had the look of a playoff team most of the season but are stumbling into the All-Star break. Fans loudly booed when they fell behind by 19 points Sunday during a 101-96 loss to Denver.
Fisher became the fifth coach to be fired this season and the second in New York. Brooklyn had already dumped Lionel Hollins.
“This is a very talented team with strong character and I am confident they will succeed,” Fisher said in a statement. “Obviously, I’m disappointed, but have learned an immense amount from this experience and hope to grow from it.”
Fisher was a five-time champion playing under Jackson with the Lakers and known as one of the league’s smartest players. Jackson turned to him after Steve Kerr chose to take the Golden State Warriors’ job after he was on the verge of accepting the Knicks’ offer.
Former head coaches Tom Thibodeau, Mark Jackson and Brian Shaw all are available. Or Jackson could wait and perhaps make at a run at another of his former players — Luke Walton, who led Golden State to the best start in NBA history while Kerr was recovering from back surgery.
But he said he was not looking at any coaching candidates now, saying he was fully confident in Rambis.
“Someone has to match the style of the way we do things and there’s a certain style that I have that I think works and I’ve found worked before,” Jackson said. “I don’t know if all those people measure up to that, because I don’t know them well enough, but that’s an important aspect and we’ll find that type of person.”
Fisher had overseen the worst season in franchise history as a rookie coach and recently said making the playoffs this season wasn’t as important as the franchise’s progress. Jackson hasn’t said if he expected or demanded a postseason berth, but Rambis said it should be the goal for fans and free agents.
“So we’ve got to figure out a way to right this ship so that we can make a push to get into the playoffs,” Rambis said.