As he nears the one-year anniversary of his firing, Derek Fisher says the New York Knicks were doing a better job with less talent when he was head coach than they are now under Jeff Hornacek.
Team president Phil Jackson fired Fisher on Feb. 8 after the Knicks started the season 23-31. This season's Knicks are 21-28 entering Tuesday's game in Washington, with a roster assembled to win now.
"We were able to take a team that wasn't as talented as the team they have now, and we were much better and much further along than this group is that they have now," Fisher told Bleacher Report. "Because the foundation was being laid.
"That's different than just trying to coach basketball -- and it takes longer. That's the part that you can't measure in wins and losses either. That's what we were doing the best at."
The Knicks have lost 15 of 20 games since Christmas. Hornacek, in his first year with the Knicks, has had to deal with plenty -- Carmelo Anthony's relationship with Jackson, trade rumors about Anthony, Derrick Rose's peculiar one-game absence and injuries like Kristaps Porzingis' Achilles and Rose's sprained ankle.
Hornacek was asked Tuesday if there's an unwritten protocol that coaches follow, when it comes to commenting about the job other coaches are doing.
"Well, I wouldn't do it," Hornacek said at the team's morning shootaround in Washington, D.C. "I don't think a lot of other guys would do it. But certain guys will."
Fisher says he's bothered that all the positive work he was doing with the Knicks was "overshadowed by opinion ... about a personal matter." That was in reference to his much-publicized run-in with former Los Angeles Lakers teammate Matt Barnes over Barnes' ex-wife.
After Jackson was hired to become the Knicks' president, the legendary former coach hired Fisher on a five-year deal when Steve Kerr took the Golden State Warriors job. Fisher didn't even make it two seasons before Jackson let him go.
"It was strange to me that it was cut short prior to really seeing it all the way through," Fisher said.
Fisher had never coached before taking the Knicks job, and he says it was even harder trying to execute what Jackson wanted -- installing and teaching the triangle offense -- as the Knicks were rebuilding.
"One of the challenges for all of us was we were in the basketball department under the umbrella of Phil Jackson and who he was and who he is and what he was able to do as coach and leader," Fisher said. "Then [when you're] asking me as a head coach in a sense not to create the same results, but take the same system or way of playing and try and teach these guys how to play it -- and utilize it in similar ways as when he taught it -- I think at times it was more challenging for our players to really understand, 'Who am I committing myself to? Who am I selling myself to? Who am I running through the brick wall for?'"
Hornacek was asked about Fisher's assessment that it's challenging for players to figure out who they are committing to on the floor with Jackson hovering as team president and wanting a certain style of play.
"I think maybe they think that occasionally," Hornacek said. "Again, when you have a system you are trying to run, have new guys, it takes a while. It takes time. We seem to be making strides now in some of the things we are running, which, 45 games into it, you hope it was Game 1 that you just get it together. But it is something that takes a while for them to really understand it, really read it."
Of Fisher, Hornacek said, "Again, he may have thought he did something with that team from last year. I'm not concerned about that. I don't think our guys are. So just go play."
Fisher went 17-65 in his first season with the Knicks in 2014-15. He said he thought the Knicks were on the right path last season and that then-rookie Porzingis was developing nicely when Fisher was fired. But he said that he and Jackson, his former Lakers coach, didn't mesh as they had hoped in their new roles.
"We both didn't know exactly what we were doing," Fisher said. "Being the head coach is not like playing. Being president is not like being the head coach. That's one of the reasons why we didn't quite complete our meshing and blending of talents and thoughts, because those two positions are not always aligned."
In hindsight, Fisher concedes that maybe he rushed into his Knicks job.
"When we're young, sometimes we're quick to go after the first or the newest or the shiniest opportunity that is in front of us, because we don't quite know any better," Fisher said. "The prettiest girl, the shiniest car, the best-looking house. Then once we open the door and walk inside the house, we realize the walls aren't painted, the foundation's cracked, the plumbing is leaking in the backyard and the pool is about to collapse.
"You don't see those things or you don't have a feel for the idea that you kind of have to inspect all of that before you decide to buy that house."
The first-time coach's reputation suffered after the altercation with Barnes over Barnes' ex-wife, Gloria Govan, in Southern California, where Fisher flew on an off day during Knicks training camp. The NBA suspended Barnes two games for the incident.
Fisher says the judgment passed on his own "character and integrity" had been difficult to deal with until recently.
"If the worst thing someone has to say about me is that I'm now going out with a woman who used to be married to this guy I worked with for a year six years ago," Fisher said before pausing, according to Bleacher Report, "cool."
"I see how quickly it shifts and changes when people are told something they don't even know if it's true or not," Fisher said. "It's comical and hypocritical that we seem to live that way. For whatever reason, we've become that type of society. Particularly in sports. There's this tough-guy bravado culture we've created in sports -- where if you're not the toughest, baddest, craziest, strongest dude on the block, then you're maybe the softest dude on the block. Our point of reference with these things and how we judge someone else's situation so quickly is crazy to me. It is beyond crazy."
Fisher is still with Govan and works as a basketball television analyst.
"My life has gotten easier over the last several months," Fisher said. "Because there was so much judgment made and assumption passed through this situation that people read about on me, my character and my integrity that isn't true. So it has made it easier for me to focus on me.
"We were doing a lot of really good things with the Knicks. That's what bothers me. The good that was being done got overshadowed by opinion, actually -- inaccurate opinion about a personal matter. Nobody really knows what happened, because there's been just noise about what happened."