NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Wednesday, February 3, 2016, 6:26 PM
As the goodwill of drafting Kristaps Porzingis slowly settles, the focus on actual results and the playoff chase slides to the forefront for the Knicks. It’s something that Derek Fisher wanted nothing to do with when asked Tuesday.
“The focus on the process is more important than the result,” he said.
Lowering expectations makes sense for the coach of a losing team but is harder to swallow when the franchise spends over $ 100 million in the offseason, doesn’t own its first-round pick and is flushing away the backend of Carmelo Anthony’s prime. New York’s current stretch of six losses in its last seven games most benefits Toronto’s pursuit of more ping pong balls in the draft lottery, which is the lingering stench of trading for Andrea Bargnani.
“The process,” as Fisher calls it, is reaffirming the necessity for patience that doesn’t jibe with Anthony’s career timeline.
Nobody in the long history of the Knicks who has coached as many games as Fisher holds a worse winning percentage than his 30%. Larry Brown, who was dropped after one season, represents the lone bigger loser and he’s a Hall of Fame coach with an NBA championship (after beating Fisher and Phil Jackson in 2004). Even Isiah Thomas won games at a higher clip than Fisher on New York’s sideline.
Mike Woodson, the coach before Fisher, won 58% of his games and the franchise’s first playoff series since 2000. Steve Kerr, the coach who turned down the Knicks job that became Fisher’s, has won 85% of his games at Golden State.
Fisher escaped blame during last season’s disaster because of the tanking circumstances, but New York’s regression in recent weeks, the team’s lack of consistency and identity, along with his continued defiance in media interviews, have intensified the scrutiny. In one of his contrarian responses to a question this week about running plays for Porzingis, Fisher became fodder for social media.
“We don’t run plays,” the coach said, straight-faced and serious.
Fisher’s style would play better if he were Gregg Popovich or had a resume to back up the condescension. Instead, the Knicks are 23-28 heading into Detroit on Thursday and struggling to keep pace with the top 8 in the Eastern Conference. They have been outscored in fourth quarters by more than 28 of the NBA’s 29 other teams. Fisher’s plan of getting easy buckets in transition this season has also fallen flat: the Knicks are dead last in fastbreak points.
On the “process” scale, it should be noted, the Knicks are moving along smoothly, with already seven more wins than they managed last season. Porzingis has hit a lull but looks like a future star. Anthony has been slowed by injuries lately but has been a willing leader and facilitator. The rest of the rotation players, with the exception of Robin Lopez, can become free agents after the season.
Keeping the same team and improving vastly in the summer isn’t so reasonable considering New York’s cap situation, and much of it depends on the player options of Derrick Williams ($ 4.5 million) and Arron Afflalo ($ 8 million).
Williams certainly sounded like he hoped to decline his and become a free agent in an interview recently with the Daily News. That would force Phil Jackson to make tough choices between continuity and finding an alternative spark off the bench.
“That’s exactly what it was, (signing a contract that was a wager on myself),” Williams said. “I have had a lot of pride in how hard I worked and I know the hard work that I put into the summer. It’s really paying off.”
Williams added there were longer deals on the table but he “wanted to pick and choose where I wanted to go as well as help a team into the playoffs.
“And if you do that, everything takes care of itself.”
Meaning the wallet gets fatter.
The other part of that wager – if Williams can help the Knicks to a playoff spot – has never been more in doubt since Porzingis’ liftoff. And the Knicks, who are five games under .500 for the first time this season, don’t get much of a respite for the remainder of this week.
Following Thursday’s trek to Detroit, Fisher will again be cast in the spotlight for the wrong reasons when enemy Matt Barnes comes to the Garden with the Grizzlies on Friday. Memphis’ hothead will bring along the embarrassing subplot of their October off-the-court fight that was about as personal as it gets in the NBA.
Fisher has since been on an up-and-down ride as a coach that has him bowing to a familiar mantra from last season: “the process.”