GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Derek Fisher says all the right things.
Throughout his 20-year NBA career, the point guard said all the right things to his teammates, handling the divas, the rookies and the journeymen. He said the right things to his coaches and even the guys upstairs. So persuasive at times, Kobe Bryant even used to call him Obama.
Fisher sat at a podium on a Westchester County, N.Y., basketball court Tuesday morning, in a suit so nice that his new boss, Phil Jackson, admired it, and continued to say the right things as he was introduced as the 26th head coach in New York Knicks team history.
"This ability in Derek to speak the truth from what the sense of the group was," said Jackson on Tuesday morning at Fisher’s introductory news conference at the MSG Training Center. "Derek was one of those players that had the unique ability to speak from what was in their spirits and in their hearts and resonate with them as to what the purpose was that we were trying to do."
Jackson, the Knicks team president, is relying on that ability to translate to the head coaching level.
Fisher wrapped up his 20-year playing career only 11 days ago. Much like Jason Kidd and Steve Kerr, Fisher’s jump from player to coach came with zero coaching experience. But with Phil Jackson in an advisory role, it prompted speculation that it would be Jackson coaching the team after all, using Fisher to communicate.
"We have a transition to make from being coach-player to now executive-coach and that’s a different relationship," Fisher said. "We’ll obviously figure out how that works and how that plays out and 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.
"Some other people may see it but I’m looking forward to that exchange."
The announcement comes just days after Jackson and Fisher’s former team, the Los Angeles Lakers, made a surprising move when they decided not to pursue the guard that helped lead them to five NBA Championships. But Fisher said the conversations never truly heated up.
"It was a very casual kind of informal reach out form the Lakers," he said. "That was over very quickly. I was as surprised as I’m sure a few of you were to hear that they made the announcement that they wouldn’t pursue me. But This was an opportunity that spoke to me right away and i was excited from the beginning."
While the move worked for Kidd, Fisher has a much different challenge he’s facing. Guidance of Jackson aside, the Knicks is a high pressure job that few have handled well in recent years. Fisher will be the Knicks’ eighth coach in the last 10 seasons and he faces a roster of role players and one disgruntled superstar.
He spoke eloquently and honestly Tuesday but the one question neither him or Jackson had an answer for was Carmelo Anthony.
Jackson has already met with the seven-time all-star and been vocal about wanting Anthony to not opt out and remain a Knick. But Fisher, a free agency veteran himself, is aware that it might look like an attractive option, given the Knicks’ current situation.
"He’s maybe never had the experience of being a free agent and he might want that," he said. "We obviously think that this is the best place for Carmelo."
Without Anthony, Fisher and Jackson will charge ahead, undaunted.
"At the end of the day, we have to find a way to create a format, a system, a way of playing that makes it easy for players to play the game and to be more effective, to utilize the full talent of our roster and not lean so heavily on one or two of the guys," Fisher said. "And we believe that we can do it."
So eloquent and so sobering, he’s given New York and its fans something to finally be excited about again, boldly proclaiming this job is about business and banners. He’ll soon find out whether he can continue to say all of the right things to Carmelo, to New York and to his team as a head coach for the first time.
"It’s like a movie that somehow just keeps getting better the longer it goes. I’m thankful that I’m blessed enough to be one of those main characters along in the movie," he said. "I’m excited about it, I’m looking forward to it, I believe it’s a job that I can handle and I can do well. I have a lot to learn, I have a lot of questions to ask."