As Derek Fisher embarks on his second year as the head coach of the New York Knicks, there’s a positive atmosphere around the entire Knicks organization.
At New York’s Media Day last week, Phil Jackson and Coach Fisher opted not to discuss expectations for this year and instead honed in on the team’s quest to be competitive this season. Much of the emphasis from Phil and Fish was geared towards sticking to the process and getting into a routine where all the players can maximize their potential for the upcoming campaign.
“Last year we did try to predict in a sense what our team would do over the course of a long NBA season, and it’s really impossible to do that,” D-Fish explained. “We couldn’t have foreseen the amount of injuries and changes that took place with our team so I think for us right now it’s more about the process and focusing on building the daily habits that are required to be a really good team.”
Derek also spoke of the confidence he has in the group of players on the Knicks’ current roster and how it is up to him and the other coaches to set the tone during camp.
“[Focusing on the process] is all we can really all we can do. Just one day at a time. Get the most out of who we are. We feel like we have a group of guys that are interested in doing that and it’s my job to lead them in the right direction along the way,” Fisher said.
The Knicks started in that direction on Tuesday when they opened their 2015 Training Camp at West Point, home of the United States Military Academy. This is the second consecutive year New York has held training camp at West Point and Derek is using last season’s experience to keep his players focused on the task at hand, and not trying to get too caught up with how things could turn out by season’s end.
“Starting the season last year we had high expectations on what we could do,” Fish explained. “Our team, obviously we had no idea about the injuries and what type of thing would take place and how our team would change. Being here at West Point again reminds us of how committed to the process we have to be, and that it’s not really about the final destination or the end of the journey, but really find ways to find some peace and joy in what you’re doing day to day.”
Though the Knicks are focused on working hard during their first week of camp, Derek also spoke this week about what his players get out of having training camp in a setting like West Point.
“It immediately sets the stage that being in the NBA and having to practice twice a day is not the hardest thing to do in the world,” Fisher said. “It just reminds us about the perspective we should keep in life and that we’re truly kind of blessed and fortunate to able to call ourselves New York Knicks and be able to play basketball for them. The scarifies that the young men and women make here are far beyond anything we could do on the basketball court and I think it helps our guys understand that message as well.”
Derek and the Knicks endured a bumpy transitional period last year, with a roster in a state of flux, and things simply didn’t quite go the way Coach Fish had hoped in his first year in charge of the Knicks. Jackson noted that he gave Derek some space last season to get a feel for the job last season, but at Fish’s request, the Knicks president, an NBA legend in the coaching ranks, plans to be more present this year.
“We’re all in this together basically. I do think there were times last year, out of respect for each other’s titles, as we learned how to operate from player-coach to president-head coach…kind of not wanting to violate each other or overload each other with too much information and conversation,” Fisher explained when asked about how he will use last years’ experience with Knicks management as a building block going into this year. “I think over the course of this offseason, not just Phil and I, but also Steve as a group in terms of management and decision making and making sure we’re communicating often about several different areas.”
While his team attempts to improve on the court this preseason, Derek has been hard at work trying to figure out ways he can improve as a coach as well.
He recently discussed what aspects will change from last year from an on-court perceptive, and what tweaks he plans on making to improve upon last year’s effort. D-Fish took initiative by coaching the Knicks’ Summer League team again this year, and that’s just one thing he’s done in order to study his team so he can be prepared going into the season.
“I’m learning everything. I can’t pretend that I’ve been doing this for a long time, but I’m a learner,” Derek said.
One of the biggest tasks for Coach Fisher will be finding ways to integrate the many Knicks newcomers and have them complement the return of team’s biggest star, Carmelo Anthony.
There is a lot of attention surrounding what Melo’s role will be with his new supporting cast, as he comes back from offseason surgery. Derek was asked this week if he expects a different level of leadership and commitment from Carmelo this year. He noted that he expects Carmelo to be a full-go for the start of the season, a good sign for the Knicks, and that Anthony’s as focused as ever on being a great player and leader for New York.
“I don’t think necessarily it’s a different level of commitment. I just think that he’s healthy, he feels good about his body and where he sees himself going,” Fisher said. “I think although there were questions about what he thought about decisions being made over the offseason and I think he actually enjoys and likes working with these guys and being around them. Health is important to a pro athlete and when you’re healthy, your perspective changes on a lot of things. I just think he’s looking forward to having a really good season and helping our team have a good season.”
Melo isn’t the only Knick looking ready to contribute to the team in a big way as they go through their first week of workouts at West Point. Derek was complimentary of his entire team’s conditioning and was pleased that conditioning wouldn’t need to be one of New York’s points of emphasis early in camp, allowing the Knicks to spend time focusing on other more competition-centered drills.
“Most of our guys, if not all of them, have come in pretty fit,” Fish said. “So we don’t have to artificially focus on additional conditioning. We can just kind of get better as a team. Really more so just focus on competing and playing hard.”
Entering his second summer with the Knicks at training camp, Derek feels much more comfortable now that he has had a full year with the organization under his belt, and he’s ready to put his experience to work.
“Similar to anyone in any profession that goes through something for the first time, you learn a lot and you’re more comfortable and confident as you go forward,” Derek explained. “That applies for me as a coach and I think I feel it, I think our players will feel it…at the end of the day it’s really just about our team finding some success and that starts with the stage that I set, and the rest of it falls on the players and how far they want to go.”
The Knicks depart West Point this weekend and head home to Manhattan, where they’ll practice early next week in preparation for their first preseason game on Wednesday. That game features the Knicks hosting Brazilian club Paschoalotto / Bauru Basket at Madison Square Garden. Tip-off is slate for 7:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday night and the game can be seen on MSG.