Most people view Jason Kidd’s first season coaching the Brooklyn Nets as a moderate success. While never really contending for a championship, he altered the team’s style of play for the better and advanced the team one round further than the year before. But it’s easy to forget how tenuous that verdict is.
Brooklyn started out 10-21 this season. Many considered them the absolute laughingstock of the league. And if Kidd was coaching the Nets’ division rival that plays across the East River, he may not have recovered from that rocky start.
This should serve as a cautionary tale for the New York Knicks, who are aggressively pursuing Derek Fisher for their head coaching vacancy. If Phil Jackson wants to hire a former player to groom into his protégé, that’s fine. But in a best-case scenario for the Knicks, Fisher is brought on as an assistant coach to work under someone with more experience.
This is by no means an attack on Fisher. He has all the qualities you look for in a good head coach and is a natural leader (listen to Kevin Durant talk about him if you’re not convinced). And the very fact that Jackson wants to hire him should be considered a good sign for his future. But this is New York City. You’re not given time to develop and grow; the fans need to see change immediately.
Regardless of the coach, the Knicks are destined to be a bad basketball team next year. They could start 10-21 and never approach .500 afterwards. That’s hardly the start a first-time coach with no prior experience can afford to endure. If that happens, the New York media would eat poor Fisher alive.
The best solution for Fisher and the Knicks would be for him to go under someone like Jeff Van Gundy. Fisher could learn two unique perspectives on coaching from two of the brightest minds in the game while feeling a fraction of the pressure that comes with the top gig.
Van Gundy is a perfect fit for the Knicks right now. He can serve as a stabilizer for what’s bound to be a rocky season or two. And while he helped to train his upcoming successor, JVG would never quite cement himself as a long-term coach. We can all see how much happier he is as an analyst than he is as a coach, and he is without question the NBA’s best color commentator. Even if he thrives once more as a coach, he probably wouldn’t want to stay for very long.
That would be excellent for New York. Unlike any time in the James Dolan era, the organization would be headed in a clear and established direction. Fisher would take the reigns without any fanfare and with more tempered expectations than there are right now. It’s hard to imagine what the Knicks roster will look like in a year or two, but it can’t get much worse than it is right now. A couple years as an assistant would boost Fisher’s success potential significantly.
Of course, thanks to the Los Angeles Lakers, this is an impossible dream. They’re interested in Fisher as well, so the Knicks have absolutely no leverage to convince Fisher to take an assistant’s job. So, one bad team or another, Fisher will be a head coach next year. Who knows, maybe he’ll turn out great. But usually you need to ride a bike with training wheels before you take them off.