GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The first day of any NBA coach's tenure is the happiest. So it was for Derek Fisher, newly-introduced coach of the New York Knicks.
His opening statement lasted more than six minutes, and his emphatic points continued on beyond the typical cadences of coach-speak, as if he were still trying to modulate his precise authority voice, weeks after his playing career ended.
"This morning was just a wonderful, wonderful moment for me, myself, my family, my life," Fisher began, standing at a podium to the side of the stage, as a beaming Phil Jackson and the ostentatiously superfluous Steve Mills looked on from chairs at the center.
And while there are the usual challenges ahead that most new coaches face -- if there weren't, the old coach would probably still have the job -- it is possible to see what Jackson and the Knicks might have in mind when it comes to the Fisher Plan.
The most prominent feature of Derek Fisher's resume as a coach is that he has none.
"Obviously, there's been a lot of talk about my inexperience as a head coach," Fisher said, unprompted, during his opening statement. "That's obviously, factually true. I have never been a coach in the NBA, or in college, or high school. But I am experienced. Basketball is a game that I'm experienced in -- playing, understanding, leading in, guiding in, helping another group of people achieve the greatest gift in the world as a professional athlete -- and that is in being a champion."
Still, that only takes a coach so far, and if the Knicks needed to be best-positioned to compete for a championship immediately, Fisher might not be the right fit. Jason Kidd's name came up repeatedly Tuesday at the Knicks' practice facility; Kidd struggled early on to make the jump from player to coach. A built-to-win Nets team immediately suffered, with a 10-21 start that arguably forced them into a series against the Heat a round earlier than their talent warranted.
But the Knicks are on a different timetable.
For all the positive talk about the Knicks' current roster -- Fisher says he thinks the Knicks are "better than many people in this room think" -- this is not a team prepared to compete for a title, even if Carmelo Anthony returns. If he doesn't, that is even more apparent.
That sets up 2014-15 as a season to reset, to get a handle on what the Knicks have, and mostly to see what Fisher can do as a coach. And thanks to Anthony, there's really no pressure either way.
If Carmelo Anthony leaves, nobody will blame Fisher for a long, losing season -- after all, these Knicks, with Anthony, won 37 games last year for Mike Woodson. But if Anthony stays, well, this is largely going to need to be the same cast as last year, due to salary cap restrictions. (To put it another way, it won't be in the team's interest to trade expiring contracts, rather than letting them expire and reaping the salary cap benefits. Scott Layden isn't walking through that door.) And a Fisher-run team, guided by Phil Jackson, isn't likely to make the same mistakes on offense, putting up roadblocks for Anthony playing his best position of power forward. The odd gameplans on the defensive end, complete with endless switching, probably exited Madison Square Garden when Mike Woodson did. That Knicks team wasn't a 54-win juggernaut most seasons (as they were in 2012-13), but they probably were better than the 37-win team they were in 2013-14, and Fisher can learn on the job while proving it.
And then comes the summer of 2015, when Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani all come off the books. And the Knicks can go after big free agents with actual money -- not just the promise of getting to play for Phil Jackson -- and a coach familiar with the league and the process of coaching.
I asked Fisher if he'd do what Kidd did last summer, and coach the Knicks' Summer League team.
"Yeah, we haven't talked really heavily about it, but it's definitely something that I've considered in my mind," Fisher said. "I saw Jason do it last year. I thought it was a smart thing to do. Steve and I will talk, Phil and I will talk, and we'll decide on what kind of team we might put together, and if that's the best thing to do. Obviously, not having head coaching experience, it could be a great opportunity to learn some things -- even if it's summer league -- that the job requires, in the game, in terms of managing timeouts, substitutions, after timeouts, quick hitters, all the little situations that you are in when the season starts."
Fisher's intelligence was certainly on display on Tuesday. And at the very least, he sounded like someone smart enough to know the good fortune of having Phil Jackson around to mentor him on a day-to-day basis. He made no effort to assert that he'd be just fine doing this job on his own, at least at first.
"We'll figure our dynamic out, in terms of -- we have a transition to make, from being coach/player, to now executive/coach," Fisher said. "That's a different relationship, so we have some learning to do from that respect. But I don't actually see the problem in having one of the greatest to ever do what you're trying to do want to come down and help you a little bit. I see that as a positive -- something, at least, that I'm open to. We'll obviously figure out how that works, how that plays out, the best way to do it so that the players understand that I'm the head coach and not Phil. But I don't see it as being an issue, potentially, as some others may see it. And I'm looking forward to that exchange."
Again, though, that'll take time. And perhaps that was the most encouraging message coming out of Tuesday morning. A franchise that has lurched from quick fix to quick fix -- none of them ultimately fixing anything -- is finally embracing the idea that building a winning team takes time. It's fairly amazing that a franchise with fans who show up regardless of the play on the floor, and an owner in Jim Dolan who doesn't need a winner to make a mint on the team, is only now coming around to rebuilding. (Also amazing: that Dolan seems to realize he needs to stay out of the way, at least for now.)
The assertion is often made that "You can't rebuild in New York." It's ludicrous. What franchise in professional sports is more recession-proof than the New York Knicks?
And come 2016, can Derek Fisher's relationship with Kevin Durant pay dividends when the great Durant reaches free agency? Those who saw the Knicks swing and miss with LeBron back in 2010 are quick to point that out, but the timetable is different this time around as well. That Knicks team had to shed contracts furiously just to reach the Summer of LeBron with cap space. They offered little on a roster beyond money to entice the best player in basketball.
These Knicks have two years to turn themselves into contenders; they have two years to turn Derek Fisher into a coach Kevin Durant will want to play for; and Phil Jackson has a whole year with cap space to maneuver into position for Durant. Without Anthony, he'll probably even add a lottery pick in 2015 to his roster, along with whichever players come and soak up some of the cap room created by the departing veterans.
That the Knicks failed to land LeBron James doesn't argue against such an approach. The Miami Heat, in fact, reinforce the wisdom of it.
It'll all take some time. But the Knicks finally seem to realize they have time now.