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Knicks follow Nets’ lead for once

Fisher hiring shadows Kidd's ascension to head-coaching ranks

June 10, 2014 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Knicks learned from the Nets when they hired Derek Fisher as head coach. AP photo
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Last summer, Jason Kidd took time during his introductory press conference at Downtown’s Barclays Center to single out the man who set the precedent for hiring a former star point guard with no previous coaching experience to lead an NBA franchise.

“I probably wouldn’t be here right now if it weren’t for Mark Jackson,” Kidd humbly noted that day.

Recently retired point guard Derek Fisher should probably be saying the exact same thing about Jason Kidd right now, especially after landing a five-year, $25 million deal to be the new head coach of the New York Knicks.

Kidd, for the record, got a four-year, $10 million pact from Nets billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov last summer.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

My, how times have changed.

It was Jackson, of course, who went straight from playing to the bench as the head coach of the Golden State Warriors, albeit after a few seasons as a broadcaster.

The former St. John’s star led the Warriors to back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in two decades during his three-year stint before rather rudely being shown the door last month following a first-round ousting at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers.

That move actually paved the way for Steve Kerr, also a former NBA point guard with no previous head-coaching experience, to land in Golden State after he was considered the primary candidate to take the Knicks’ job.

Kerr also got a five-year, $25 million deal from the Warriors.

Noticing a trend here, coach Kidd?

As has been documented in these pages, Kidd’s career on the sidelines got off to an inauspicious start, to say the least.

The Nets limped out of the gate with a 10-21 mark this past season, lost All-Star center Brook Lopez for the year and appeared on the verge of being a non-factor in the NBA playoff race despite the highest payroll in the history of the league.

Hiring Fisher in his first year off the hardwood would hardly have seemed like a prudent move back in December.

But Kidd took it upon himself to right the ship, relegating top assistant and long-time coaching confidant Lawrence Frank to scouting duties while banishing him from the bench for the rest of the season.

If the Nets were going to go down in flames, it would be strictly under his watch and direction.

The Nets, however, took off shortly thereafter, going 34-19 after Jan. 1 and reaching the postseason for the second time in as many years since moving to our fair borough.

Brooklyn beat Toronto in a memorable seven-game first-round playoff series before falling in five tough contests to two-time defending NBA champion Miami in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Suddenly, hiring a Kerr or Fisher seemed very doable.

But, ultimately, it was Jackson’s success in Golden State that opened the door for Kidd’s hiring.

And, in turn, Kidd’s success in Brooklyn during his first season away from the hardwood after 19 brilliant ones on it, doubtlessly played a role in the Knicks hiring Fisher fresh off his retirement.

Fisher, aged 39, just completed an 18-year career of his own with the Oklahoma City Thunder, who were ousted from the Western Conference finals by the San Antonio Spurs.

A five-time NBA champion during his days under newly hired Knicks Team President Phil Jackson with the dynastic Los Angeles Lakers, Fisher epitomizes what today’s NBA player is looking for in a head coach.

He knows their language, understands their hardships, both on and off the court, and has been in the line of fire recently enough to relate to their successes and failures in game situations.

These are the same qualities that made Kidd attractive to the likes of veteran players like Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams just a preseason ago.

“Derek has a long, laundry list of coaches that he’s worked under and had a tremendous amount of success and we welcome him,” Phil Jackson said Tuesday during a press conference at the Knicks’ training center in Greenburgh, New York.

“I like the fact that he’s current with the players … and hip-hop ready to go with their language. It’s not my role to be on the court. This is where a young man steps on and leads the team forward.”

Jackson, Kidd, Kerr and Fisher all have one thing very much in common.

They played the position that most lends itself to coaching on the floor.

The point guard is the NBA’s version of Major League Baseball’s catcher, the one player who must have his head in the game at all times and know exactly what every other player on the floor is doing.

He’s the quarterback of the NBA game plan.

The one who gets open looks for the team’s best scorer.

The one who is always ready to receive an outlet pass off a key rebound and get his teammates up the floor.

The one who points out where his teammates should settle in to their respective defensive assignments.

All this while keeping an eye open for the next play his head coach is calling from the sidelines as he brings the ball up the floor.

“He’s a great motivator, great speaker and can really relate to a lot of guys and demands that respect from everybody,” reigning NBA MVP Kevin Durant, Fisher’s former teammate in Oklahoma City, insisted. “He’s a great locker-room guy.  I’m sure he’ll do a great job.”

Durant’s words regarding Fisher’s hiring were eerily similar in tone to the ones Nets general manager Billy King used when shocking the NBA community by handing over a team with a payroll of upwards of $180 million to a coaching novice.

“When this process started, we were looking for a coach with great leadership to help our players compete and play hard,” said King. “Jason Kidd combined everything we were looking for. The one thing about Jason is he’s always worked hard. He doesn’t just want to be good at something, he wants to be great. He was an unselfish player. He wasn’t a great shooter when he came in the league, but he became a great shooter. He’ll make sure we go in the right direction.”

The only direction Kidd should be headed right now is up to King’s office for a contract re-negotiation.

Sometimes it hurts to be a trendsetter.

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