Derek Fisher stays upbeat as first-year coach of beat-up Knicks

Derek Fisher's Knicks are having a dismal season, but his players say they appreciate his encouragement

Derek Fisher stood expressionless on the Staples Center sideline for most of another dreary afternoon. His hands were usually buried in his pockets, emerging only to greet his players with encouraging pats or high-fives.

It almost felt as if Fisher had to be watching another game.

His New York Knicks are an abomination of an NBA team, losers of nine straight games and owners of a 5-29 record after a 99-78 setback against the Clippers on Wednesday.

The numbers didn't seem to bother Fisher. The rookie coach shared a laugh with rookie forward Travis Wear near the scorer's table with the Knicks down by 18 points late in the game.

"It's been difficult," Fisher said of the losing, "but that doesn't define our life and whether we're good people or whether we know how to play basketball just because we're not winning right now. It just means you have a lot of work to do."

The year 2015 figures to be similar to 2014 for the Knicks, though it's a solid bet Fisher will continue to read from the silver linings playbook during what is shaping up to be the most tarnished season in franchise history.

His players say they appreciate the encouragement at a time when it can be difficult to motivate themselves.

"I think he's doing a great job at that, just keeping everybody kind of upbeat," forward Carmelo Anthony said after being the only Knick to score in double figures with 19 points. "I think if it was anybody else in his position, I think this probably would've crumbled already."

Crumbled? It might have disintegrated into oblivion with this collection of bone-headed and injury-prone players largely inherited by Fisher and new team President Phil Jackson. Andrea Bargnani and J.R. Smith returned from lengthy injury absences Wednesday and only seemed to make their team worse.

The Knicks have one of the most inept defenses in the league and an offense so dysfunctional they have constructed the first triangle that doesn't add up to 180 degrees.

Jackson watched his team fail to score for the first 5 1/2 minutes of the third quarter from a seat halfway up the lower bowl of the arena he once rocked on the way to five championships with a Lakers roster including Fisher and Kobe Bryant.

Fisher said the Lakers never contacted him about their coaching vacancy this summer but said he was not disappointed. The way he phrased his response said otherwise.

"They don't owe me anything," he said, "I don't owe them anything."

Fisher downplayed his return to Staples Center as a coach, saying it didn't really matter because the Knicks lost the game. There figures to be plenty more defeats amid reports of internal strife caused by some players' struggles to adapt to the triangle offense and other concepts.

Of course, publicly everything is just fine.

"The triangle's a tough system to learn and it's going to take time," Wear said. "But I think we have done a great job as a team and them as a coaching staff of just sticking with it and all staying together and not trying to branch off and do our own thing or get discouraged."

Fisher's biggest adjustment might come in dealing with a media horde far more probing than any he addressed in his 12 1/2 seasons as a Laker.

The typically buttoned-down coach frayed a bit during a postgame exchange with a New York Times reporter who inquired about why it took nearly a half hour after the final buzzer for the coach to emerge from the locker room.

Reporter: "What took so long in there?"

Fisher: "The only reason we come out to talk is because it's mandatory."

Reporter: "Did you talk to the team longer or more in-depth than usual?"

Fisher: "Today wasn't abnormal in terms of the length of time I spoke to them. Then I went into the coach's office and spent some time talking to the coaches."

Reporter: "Did you talk to Phil?"

Fisher: "No, Phil's not the coach. Did you guys see him walk in?"

Reporter: "There's plenty of doors in there."

Fisher: "No, we don't meet right after the game, so sorry to disappoint you guys if you thought we spoke."

There's no shortage of displeasure with the Knicks right now. Their coach seems to be impervious to any of it, which could be a plus or a minus depending on whether the losses eventually stop adding up.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch

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