Derek Fisher and 2001-2002 Sixth Man of the Year Corliss Williamson are Arkansas natives and longtime friends. Thus, upon reading about Big Nasty taking over Central Arkansas's basketball program, we decided to get Fish's thoughts after Sunday's practice on his buddy's good fortunes and the possibility of coaching after his playing career eventually winds down. Given that Fisher plans to continue playing after this season ends (and he becomes free agent), such decisions are hardly pressing, but nonetheless intriguing.
As always, Fish provided some interesting perspective.
Andrew Kamenetzky: What was your reaction when you heard about Corliss getting hired?
Derek Fisher (smiles): I just told him to leave a seat open for me, just in case things don't go well for me in July (when free agency talks begin). Nah, I just congratulated him basically. I knew he was serious about coaching but when you take a head coaching at just about any NCAA institution now, that's a 24/7 commitment.
AK: Whenever GM's or players are polled about current players who'd make the best coaches, your name is always among the leading vote-getters. I know you're not close to calling it a career, but is that something you've thought about?
DF: Yeah, I think about a number of different things that I feel like I enjoy doing and could be committed to and passionate about doing. That's probably what would be the most important thing in terms of the impact of my decision regarding what I do after I'm done. Yeah, those are the things that cross my mind.
Brian Kamenetzky: Do you ever think about big program vs. smaller program? Closer to home vs. other locations?
DF: All of the above. It depends on the day of the week. Sometimes I think about being back at home at Arkansas-Little Rock (Fisher's alma mater) and what that opportunity would present. Other times I think about if my family would remain here and being at UCLA or USC. Lakers, Clippers. Whatever. Just the future, so to speak. And then there are other days where I'm like, "I don't even want to think about that right now."
AK: As you get later into this phase of your career, do you find yourself paying closer attention to what coaches do and why?
DF: Yeah. I think I've always been curious about the game and the different approaches that coaches take. Having been fortunate enough to play for Phil for so long, comparing the way we do things here to what I observe at other programs and other organizations and teams. Throw around, theoretically, how if you were in charge, how you would do things, and what would be important and what you try to do.
I think we all have a natural instinct to visualize ourselves in certain positions and places in our lives. Obviously being closer to the end than the beginning, those picture are coming into vision clearer and better than they did when I first came into the league. But I've kind of always had that tendency to think that way.
BK: Sam Cassell is now an assistant coach with the Wizards. You've played with guys now in that role, like (Lakers assistant coach) Brian Shaw. Do you talk to guys who've made the transition about what it's like?
DF: Most of those thoughts I have are late night after a game, on the bus, sitting around the hotel. I still pretty much keep up that protective wall up of, "I'm still a player." As much as I think about my life after basketball, I'm not ready to, like, fully research it and come up with the actual plan. I'm just not that, I don't want to say "not interested," but just not that close to really wanting to figure it out.
But I've have conversations with guys naturally. With Sam Cassell when we played the Wizards. And me and B. Shaw obviously talk a lot. I think every coach that I've played for, I've always been a really vocal guy, willing to kinda throw my two cents in about a game plans and suggestions. I think my coaches have always kind of felt like I was on the staff, anyway. (laughs)
Brian then mentioned hearing that Lakers Special Assistant Chuck Person might be considered for the vacancy at Auburn, reinforcing the high level of interest in and competition for coaching jobs.
DF: I would probably imagine there are hundreds of jobs in and around the game, that are former players either on benches now or trying to get on NBA benches and would do admirable jobs. I definitely don't take it lightly or think that if my decision was to go into NBA coaching, that I'd be able to kinda jump over that process. From what I hear, there's a line as long as from that wall to that wall (of the practice facility) that want to get on the sidelines.
AK: You talked about that wall you have to put up as a player. Have you noticed any change in Brian (Shaw)'s demeanor during his transitioning from player to coach?
DF: Not so much, which is what I think is what makes Brian such a good coach and why he made the transition so well. He's always been the same guy. He's always been honest and upfront with his teammates, so now as an assistant coach, he hasn't had to change much. The only thing I think he's had to change, which more comes from Phil prodding him than him actually wanting to change, is how cool he is with the guys. You always kind of feel like you're part of the group with the players, once you've played as many years as Brian played. I think that's the only adjustment he's really had to make. To not want to check himself into the game. To be so close to us that way.
BK: You talked about not wanting to skip steps or a place in the line. I would imagine it's hard for guys, especially now with guys getting paid so well and travel so comfortably, to go somewhere like the D-League or a smaller school. Do you think that would be difficult?
DF: I would imagine so, which is why I was so excited and happy for Corliss. Certain guys, when they make certain decisions, you know it has absolutely to do with the money, or the size of the program, or the prestige or even his individual ego. It's really because he loves coaching and he wants to help young kids and young athletes get better. He's to be commended and if we had more guys to make the decision to go into the coaching for those reasons as opposed to "I still need a check" or "I don't want to be at home," there probably would be some better basketball being played.
AK: When you picture yourself in that coaching role, is there a particular perspective you think you'd bring? Something unique that comes from from the way you played? The role you played? Your entire career?
DF: Hopefully, if I was speaking hypothetically, my experiences, like you said, in various roles and various types of teams with all types of individuals and players. Guys of Hall of Fame status to the last guy on the roster and always feeling like I was equal with everybody. Hopefully, that perspective will bring credibility when talking to a student-athlete or a guy. I'd probably have to show them some Blu-ray footage by that time that I actually did used to play (laughs).
DF: Right, right, right! Appreciated that, by the way.
There are certain players who feel like coaches in the making. Cassell and Shaw, two guys we discussed, fit this description to a T. Even during two injury-riddled, unproductive seasons in L.A., Aaron McKie's inherent leadership skills -Ronny Turiaf praised the hell out of him on our PodKast- made his current spot on the Sixers staff feel inevitable.
Fisher is another such guy. The way players gravitate towards him, respect him, and take his words to heart makes it incredibly easy to imagine this next step. Dude has gravitas, plus an ability to relate to people, which is half the battle in and of itself.
Obviously, there would be plenty more to learn and prove, and those qualities mentioned don't guarantee success. Coaching is a really tough gig. But were I a betting man (and for the record, I am), let's just say my money would be placed on the pass line regarding Fisher, should he decide to one day go this route.