‘Short but sweet’ search lands Fisher as coach of LA Sparks
LOS ANGELES (AP) — It was a “short but sweet” search to find the new coach of the Los Angeles Sparks. Turns out he has been sitting in the courtside seats for years.
Derek Fisher was introduced Friday as coach of the team that he watched play at Staples Center while helping the Lakers win five NBA championships as their point guard. It’s Fisher’s second stint as a head coach in the pro ranks. He was fired from the New York Knicks in 2016.
“This opportunity is not a step down, sideways, backwards, somehow different than the men’s game,” Fisher told a room full of media at a downtown hotel, insisting the WNBA isn’t a steppingstone. “There isn’t a future outside of what we’re here to talk about today.”
Executive vice president and general manager Penny Toler didn’t look far in finding a replacement for Brian Agler, who resigned last week.
“Our coach’s search was short but sweet,” she said. “The first person who came to mind was Derek Fisher. Derek has been a huge supporter of the Sparks, but even more importantly, he’s been a huge supporter of the WNBA from day one. He would leave his practice and fly and watch us play.”
Toler said that during her 20 years as GM she would discuss the team with Fisher and seek his advice and suggestions.
“He’s invested,” she said.
Fisher becomes the 12th coach in franchise history. He takes over a team that went 19-15 in the regular season this year before losing in the second round of the playoffs.
Agler resigned without explanation after four years that included winning the WNBA championship in 2016. He had an 85-51 career mark with the Sparks.
“I don’t know why he wanted to. I didn’t ask,” Toler said. “When someone wants to resign, it’s not my job to talk them out of it.”
Former league MVP Candace Parker was on hand to welcome Fisher. She waved her right hand in the air, showing off her WNBA championship ring that made a clunking noise when her hand hit the table.
“I want more,” she said.
Besides Parker, the Sparks have another former league MVP in Nneka Ogwumike and hope to re-sign guard Chelsea Gray.
“We have chemistry,” Parker said.
Parker noted she first met Fisher when she was 8 or 9 and her older brother’s agent was based in Arkansas, where Fisher is from.
Fisher was fired in New York after going 40-96 in 1 ½ seasons while working under then-Knicks executive Phil Jackson, who coached him on the Lakers.
Fisher said it took a while for him to come to terms with the fact that he was “overly fixated with what other people thought about my experience in New York as opposed to what I felt about my experience in New York.”
Fisher peppered Toler with what she said were “about 2,000 questions” before agreeing to take the Sparks job. He indicated the homework was necessary after his time with the Knicks.
“What I learned is, if there is not clarity in purpose, vision and mission from ownership to management to coaches to players to staff, it doesn’t work,” he said. “Some of the basketball things are irrelevant if ownership, management, staff, players, if we are not aligned in the way we see going about our jobs and achieving our purpose and our mission.”
Since leaving New York, Fisher has worked as a TV analyst. He said he explored jobs with college and men’s pro teams but the timing wasn’t right.
He also experienced upheaval in his personal life.
In June 2015, he and former teammate Matt Barnes got into an altercation at the home of Gloria Govan, Barnes’ ex-wife who is now Fisher’s fiancée. In June 2017, Fisher was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving after his vehicle flipped on a Los Angeles freeway. He and Govan weren’t injured.
Govan and two of Fisher’s children from his first marriage were on hand Friday.
“The book is not finished yet,” Fisher said. “I feel like this is an opportunity for me to continue writing my coaching book and I’m excited to do it here in LA with the Sparks.”