06302022

Isola: Knicks coach Fisher may want to learn MSG exits soon

Derek Fisher is 2-7 so far in his tenure with the Knicks, his first coaching job, but how long will James Dolan remian patient with Phil Jackson's hire?Frank Franklin II/AP
Derek Fisher is 2-7 so far in his tenure with the Knicks, his first coaching job, but how long will James Dolan remian patient with Phil Jackson’s hire?






There are stories of Mike D’Antoni trying to sneak out of the Garden after losses to avoid being cornered in his office by James Dolan. Those quick exits brought a whole new meaning to the phrase “seven seconds or less.”


Mike Woodson was not nearly as resourceful or daring. Perhaps that had to do with Woodson being appointed by Dolan to replace D’Antoni as head coach. So Woodson had to suck it up and relive the losses with his boss minutes after the final buzzer.


Eventually, Derek Fisher will want to learn all the escape routes in the bowels of the World’s Most Famous Arena, especially for nights such as Wednesday when the Knicks’ losing streak ballooned to six following Orlando’s 97-95 victory. The unproven Magic was playing its second game in two nights while the rested Knicks failed to get the ball to Carmelo Anthony on the final possession and settled for a long three from J.R. Smith that never had a chance.


“I thought we ran the play that was designed,” Anthony said. “J.R. took it. He had an open shot or thought he had an open shot.”


The final possession doesn’t reflect well on Smith or Fisher. Nor does Fisher’s decision to play Jason Smith and Samuel Dalembert during a crucial stretch in the fourth when Anthony was on the bench with five fouls. Fisher, whose team has yet to score 100 points this season, should have gone to Amar’e Stoudemire or dared the referees to foul out Anthony.


This is all part of Fisher’s — wait for it — learning process. He is 2-7 as a rookie head coach and needs injured point guard Jose Calderon more than ever.


It was a bad ending for Fisher on a night that began with a famous blues singer spotted in the locker room. Normally, the sight of Dolan during a losing streak would have everyone on alert. But in year one of the Phil Jackson regime, Fisher shouldn’t feel threatened by Dolan’s presence.


This is a freebie, a honeymoon, or as the Knicks like to say “a learning process.” Dolan is going to exercise patience because he has to. After being a very hands-on owner last year and sabotaging the season from the word go, Dolan is trying to repair his image as a meddling, irrational boss by portraying himself as a hands-off manager.


There’s a very good reason why Dolan was conspicuously absent from his baseline seat during the Knicks’ embarrassing opening night loss to the Chicago Bulls. Instead, he and his band had a gig that night. The word around the Garden is that Dolan is removing himself from the day-to-day operations of the team and is focusing on his true passion — entertainment.


The game-night production/entertainment is now Dolan’s new toy. From marginalizing the Knicks City Dancers to hiring Taylor Swift to hijack opening night, Dolan is apparently morphing into his alter ego, entertainment manager Irving Azoff, who played match-maker with Dolan and Jackson.


We’ll see how long this lasts, but this is a good development for Jackson and Fisher. Dolan has backed off since low-balling Steve Kerr and vetoing several staff changes Jackson wanted to implement last spring. Dolan, according to a source, essentially told Jackson that certain employees work specifically for him and that Jackson should just focus on running the basketball operations.

Fisher, who played last season, is learning on the job as a coach. J.R. Smith (r.) may never learn.Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
Fisher, who played last season, is learning on the job as a coach. J.R. Smith (r.) may never learn.




Jackson is a quick learner — unlike some of his players — and picks the battles worth fighting. Jackson coached Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, so he is well-versed in dealing with high maintenance personalities. Dolan can be unpredictable but he and Rangers president/GM Glen Sather have survived together for more than a decade. And Isiah Thomas would still be running the Knicks had he not been used as the scapegoat for a sexual harassment charge levied against the Garden.


Jackson, assuming his stays healthy and wants to keep making $15 million per season, can have the same longevity.


“We had a moment before the Charlotte game, I think that was a week ago Sunday,” Jackson, on Monday, said of Dolan. “We talked a little about what was going on and the status, his voodoo night down in New Orleans, where he was playing and my voodoo night in the Village where I was watching the Halloween parade down there. Mostly, it was about pleasantries, but to my surprise, he was happy with how the team performed.”


That’s great. But if I’m Fisher I would take a second to familiarize myself with the nearest exit.




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