Derek Fisher had just finished a long playing career when Phil Jackson picked him to coach the New York Knicks. Just 1 1/2 seasons later, Jackson decided he needed someone else.
Fisher was fired Monday, with his team having lost five straight and nine of 10 to fall well back in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
“It’s time for us to make a change, turn this team around and move forward and get some wins and keep going down the road we had started here at the beginning of the year,” Jackson said at the team’s practice facility.
Associate head coach Kurt Rambis was promoted to interim head coach at least through the rest of the season. Rambis, like Fisher an ex-Laker player and a former assistant under Jackson, went 56-145 in two seasons as Minnesota’s coach and part of a season leading the Lakers.
The Knicks have fallen to 23-31, dropping Fisher’s overall record to 40-96. Jackson hired Fisher in June 2014, just weeks after the point guard was done playing.
“It’s a huge transition from being a player to a coach at any point in time, let alone the season after you retire from playing. So it was a very difficult situation, regardless of where he coached,” Rambis said.
“This is a historic franchise and this is a franchise and a fan base that’s used to winning and he started the process, and it won’t be finished and it may not be finished with the next two coaches that are coming in, but I think he was laying the foundation of doing things the right way and turning this franchise around.”
But Fisher wasn’t winning lately, and though Jackson praised his work ethic, he had seen enough of the Knicks’ slow starts and faulty finishes.
Jackson also questioned whether Fisher took advantage of the experienced assistants Jackson hired to work with him, such as Rambis and Jim Cleamons. Jackson, who won an NBA-record 11 championships as a coach, also told Fisher he may not have mentored him as well as he could have.
“There wasn’t really a consensus in our staff. We decided we need to have really good consensus in the working staff, interchanging of ideas and communication,” Jackson said.
The Knicks went 17-65 last season but upgraded their roster during the summer with the drafting of Kristaps Porzingis and the signing of veterans Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez.
Fisher became the fifth coach to be fired this season and the second in New York. Brooklyn had already dumped Lionel Hollins.
“This is a very talented team with strong character and I am confident they will succeed,” Fisher said in a statement. “Obviously, I’m disappointed, but have learned an immense amount from this experience and hope to grow from it.”
Fisher was a five-time champion playing under Jackson with the Lakers and known as one of the league’s smartest players. Jackson turned to him after Steve Kerr chose to take the Golden State Warriors’ job after he was on the verge of accepting the Knicks’ offer.