This piece was originally published on July 15, 2014, but re-surfaced in anticipation of Spike Lee's "What Is The Triangle Offense? A Spike Lee Orange and Blue Skies Joint" premiering Oct 24 at 10:30 PM on MSG Network.
LAS VEGAS -- Derek Fisher grinned at the suggestion that the championship success of the San Antonio Spurs this past season -- winning with a foundation of team play over individual talent -- might have helped him sell the message of the Triangle Offense to Carmelo Anthony.
“It’s ironic that the Spurs did anything to help me, as a former Laker,” said Fisher, known well for his "Point-Four Shot,” the game-winning basket with 0.4 seconds left in a pivotal Game 5 against the Spurs in the 2004 Western Conference semifinals.
“But, in my opinion, I don’t know if what the Spurs have done, or have been doing, has ever changed,” Fisher continued. “Basketball has always been a team game. We talk a lot about Big Threes and superstars, and which team are they going to and which three or four guys are going to be playing together. But at the end of the day, it’s the best team that ultimately wins a championship.
“We hope to be that one day, but right now we have to start at the beginning and that’s becoming a team. But we think this offense will help us.”
It helps that they’ll have one of the game’s best scorers in that offense. But for Melo, his transition into this system -- which brought great success to Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Pau Gasol -- won’t be about how well he can score in it. But, instead, how well he can play in it.
The system demands not just ball movement, but player movement. We’re getting a little taste of it in Summer League play right now and what you see is the ball goes to the high- or mid-post, and players on both sides of the court begin cuts and screens, creating movement and options. It’s not going to involve high screen-and-rolls with the point guard dominating the ball and shooters in the corners. It’s not going to involve isolating Carmelo Anthony on the wing and having stand-still kick-out options for him when the double-team comes.
Melo is going to have to play within the movement. TNT’s David Aldridge asked Fisher if he has imagined Melo in the “pinch post” similarly to how Pippen thrived in the offense. It would open up a lot of room for Melo, because the pinch post sets up on the weak side elbow. There are various options once he gets the ball and most of them include passing the ball, something Pippen thrived at as a “point-forward” on those great Bulls teams. But with all of the movement, it also creates spacing for Melo to get off his dangerously quick release mid-range shot.
“Oh yeah,” Fisher said to that idea. “I imagined it quite a bit. It’s an area he likes to operate before even playing in this system.”
Fisher then quickly tagged his reaction with a thought that both he and Phil Jackson routinely hammer home.
“But it’s important we don’t put him there and then just watch him play, which is easy to do with great players,” Fisher said. “We have to have things going on around him, wherever he catches the basketball, that will allow him to make his pla,y but also be able to make a play for his teammates. And that will make the game easy for him.”
The new mindset of the NBA is that stars need more talent -- preferably other stars -- around them to thrive. The idea is putting two or three stars together takes the burden off one star. But Fisher believes the right system -- and the development of trust within teammates, which is a page torn out of the Spurs playbook -- can do that too.
Jackson will point out that despite the perception that his success came from coaching some of the game’s best players, only once did he have more than two all-stars from his teams in a single year. And it’s worth noting that over the last 40 years, there have been three all-stars on a single NBA team 35 times. And the only one from a Phil Jackson-coached team? It came in 1994 when Pippen, BJ Armstrong and Horace Grant were named to the team. Not exactly a superstar lineup there.
Fisher believes Melo is ready to buy into the system that made champions out of Jordan, Pippen, Kobe and Shaq and the philosophy that has made the Spurs one of the great franchises in sports.
“In conversations I’ve had with him, that’s what he wants,” Fisher said. “He doesn’t want us to give him the basketball and just say, ‘Save the day.’ He wants to be in an environment where everybody’s effective. He wants a balanced basketball team and that’s what we need to build.”
- Fisher made headlines by proclaiming the Knicks, even without any more changes to the roster, are a playoff team.
"In my opinion, based on our roster and the things we’re going to do and who we’re going to become, we can compete for playing in the playoffs and playing for a championship in the Eastern Conference,” he said on Monday. He later reiterated it, saying, “I believe in the group of guys that we have, even if nothing else changes, we’re good enough to be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference. But we’ll obviously have to go out on the floor and prove it.”
The Knicks went 37-45 last season and missed the playoffs by just one game, so Fisher certainly wasn’t going out on a limb. It was an awful start to the season that did them in, as they were playing well enough late in the season to be a playoff team.
- Jackson, too, made a very noteworthy statement while sitting in on the MSG Network broadcast during the Knicks win over Charlotte here in Las Vegas on Monday. When talking, he was asked about Andrea Bargnani, Jackson said the big man, who was acquired from the Raptors last year and cost the Knicks a 2016 first round pick, was “just overlooked.”
He then added, “We think he’s going to do well in the kind of system we have ... I think he’s going to be a surprise and I think he’s going to be a pleasant one for us.”
- Rookie Cleanthony Early sat out Monday’s game with a slightly sprained ankle, which isn’t believed to be serious. He is expected to play in the next game.
- Kenyon Martin has attended the last two Knicks summer league games and said his ankle is feeling great after a “clean out” procedure to alleviate the issues that sidelined him late last season. Martin, who is a free agent, said he would “love, love, love” to re-sign with the Knicks. Jackson did say he was looking for another big man and Martin, along with his defense, has shown to be a very capable passer in the high post.
- Pot, Meet Kettle: Rockets GM Daryl Morey was on Houston radio on Monday explaining why the Rockets couldn’t match the offer sheet Chandler Parsons signed with the Dallas Mavericks. Morey called it “the most untradeable contract I’ve ever seen” because of how it was structured, with the intent to dissuade capped-out Houston from matching. This is, of course, the same guy who structured an offer sheet for Jeremy Lin in a way that made the Knicks pass on matching. Morey just traded that contract to the Lakers along with a first round pick for nothing in return.
Oh and Mavs GM Donnie Nelson had a priceless response to Morey’s criticism: “We don’t intend to trade him.”
- So guard Brian Roberts, who made a name for himself in New Orleans, is expected to sign with Charlotte and will be the first of his kind in NBA history. He will have twice played for the Hornets, but in two different cities and for two different franchises.
- The Knicks are 3-0 in Summer League play and now await their next opponent in the round-robin play segment this week. We’ll have their next two games on MSG Network.