Phil Jackson got his man. His second choice, anyway.
A few weeks after Steve Kerr spurned New York by choosing Golden State, Jackson reached an agreement Monday with Derek Fisher to coach the Knicks, a Lakers reunion officially beginning with a Tuesday news conference 2,500 miles from Los Angeles.
The Lakers ruled out Fisher last week as a candidate for their head coaching job because they wanted more experience, and they lost another candidate Tuesday because Kurt Rambis was expected to become the top assistant on Fisher’s staff.
Rambis was an assistant with the Lakers last season and was one of five coaches interviewed in person to fill the vacancy created when Mike D’Antoni resigned in April. The Lakers are expected to add a few more names to their list and are in no hurry to hire a coach even though the NBA draft is only two weeks away.
The Knicks, meanwhile, get a coach whose playing career ended less than two weeks ago. Fisher, who will be 40 in August, averaged 5.2 points for Oklahoma City this season. He played nine seasons for the Lakers and won five championships under Jackson, who hired him Monday for five years and $25 million, according to Yahoo Sports.
Fisher made $1.4 million this season and seemed undecided whether to return for a 19th NBA season as a player after the Thunder was eliminated by San Antonio in the Western Conference finals on May 31.
It’s the second major move Jackson has taken since accepting the job as Knicks president in March. He fired coach Mike Woodson in April with one year left on his contract.
Jackson has long considered Fisher one of the more cerebral players he has ever coached. Just last week Jackson was fined $25,000 by the NBA for discussing Fisher, who at the time was still under contract with Oklahoma City.
“The last two summers, Derek and I have talked about the next step in his career,” Jackson told reporters. “So I kind of know what he wants to do, and his feelings. He’s got little kids still in L.A. I have no idea if he wants to move his family and come here. Those are things that he would have to express.”
Fisher has some leadership experience after being head of the players’ union for several years but he takes over a Knicks team in relative turmoil.
The Knicks were not competitive much of last season except for a late but unsuccessful playoff push in the watered-down East, and they could lose Carmelo Anthony to free agency next month.
Even if Anthony left, there would be little money to spend on free agents this summer. The Knicks already have a slew of underperforming players under contract next season: Amare Stoudemire ($23.4 million), Andrea Bargnani ($12 million), J.R. Smith ($6 million) and Raymond Felton ($4.4 million). They also have aging, injury-prone center Tyson Chandler for $14.6 million.
Rambis, meanwhile, was under contract with the Lakers for one more season as an assistant coach but opted instead for a pay raise and more stability with the Knicks. The Lakers could not guarantee Rambis would become their head coach, and he and Jackson are longtime friends.