Q&A: Derek Fisher Gains New Coaching Perspective in WNBA

From all accounts, first-year LA Sparks head coach Derek Fisher is a serious candidate for 2019 WNBA Coach of the Year. Whether it’s being down to seven healthy players or experiencing cross country travel from Los Angeles to New York on a commercial flight in the WNBA, Fisher has navigated trials and in the process the five-time NBA champion has learned something about himself and his defense first coaching philosophy.

Winsidr.com: Do you feel like you’ve been able to stick to your coaching philosphy this season or have you had to change and mold it based on what’s going on?

Fisher: We’ve had to adapt. First, I think just starting the season with basically half of your roster still in Europe. There’s certain things you can start to build in terms of foundation and habits but it’s really not until everybody is back and you can start to see people on the court and how things are going to fit.

What you envision will work, does it work when they’re actually out there. Some of it, I think we’ve been able to stick to in terms of defense being a priority.

(Culturally) caring for one another. From a basketball perspective, we’ve had to adapt almost week to week. In terms of players, injuries, needing to play big at times, we had to play small at different points.

Overall, I think we’ve done a great job. This has been an up and down season in terms of in and out with personnel but through all of that we’ve found a way to be one of the most consistent teams in the league.

Connecticut hasn’t had to deal with changes that we had to deal with. Washington hasn’t had to deal with the changes from the top first and foremost. Curt Miller has been in Connecticut. They know what Curt wants and expects. Mike the same way, my team is learning what I want and expect from them on a daily basis and their champions. They’re also like we hear you (but) we’ve won before and continuing to work to put that together.

So in 3.5 months, I think we’ve been okay but we want to be better.

Question: What’s allowed your team to maintain consistency?

Fisher: As a staff, we’ve tried to be consistent in our approach on a daily basis, in terms of our attitude, our energy, being positive. Being the type of people that our players know, win, lose, good game, bad game, we’re going to still be here for you the next morning early, if you want to get some shots up. Get some work in and get better.

Establishing that type of energy right from the start is something that has carried us through some of the adversity, where the players really feel like we’re in this with them not two separate factions in a sense. I think that’s helped us to have some collective energy when we get out to perform.

Question: Has anything about the WNBA surprised you?

Fisher: I wouldn’t say surprises but it’s not until you go through it that you really feel what it’s like. It’s hard to be compassionate for a person that you haven’t experience their life before.

I think the travel elements. The roster elements, whether you can carry 11 players or 12 players. Not being able to carry more than that. Starting training camp and your players are still in Europe, you can’t go support them because there’s no budget for that.

You start training camp and your best players are not there, to implement offensive schemes, defensive schemes, just to get to know them as people, there’s some challenge there (time wise).

I wouldn’t say surprising because those were the rules when I said yes to the job but you don’t really know how that feels until you’re in it.

For a guy that came from 20 years on the men’s side it’s just so vastly different that it’s taking some adjusting getting used to.

Question: Has your respect for women’s basketball increased?

Fisher: Oh yeah, for sure. I had a tremendous amount of respect and appreciation for them, what they do, how they perform for a long time.

I think they play the game the right way… the fact that they play year round so there’s never an off-season to actually train your body, train your mind to get better every year.

Sometimes what you see on the NBA side, a guy goes from year 1, by year 3 or 4, this guy has become an All-Star, Hall of Fame caliber player because he’s able to take 4 or 5, sometimes 6 months, change his body. Work on parts of his game, a lot of time these women aren’t getting a chance.

They’re battling Achilles injuries, knee injuries, back, shoulder stuff from just playing year round and all of that continues to create this conversation around how do we make the WNBA the greatest basketball league in the world for women and its a lot of things to be discussed.

Question: Are you enjoying it? How do you balance the present and the future?

Fisher: A lot of enjoyment. I’m really competitive. I’ve been a part of teams that have won and been successful for a long time so I want that for us right away but I’m also keeping the long-term perspective of what we’re trying to build.

I have to find that balance, sometimes on a daily basis because it impacts my energy and my mood. If I’m only thinking about winning and losing, then I’m more serious, dark and we gotta figure out this thing right now because we have to win tomorrow.

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But when I’m in balance and I’m thinking about from an organizational perspective, when you’re building a culture, you’re building a company and you come in as the new manager or CEO, you can’t only thing about the first quarter or the second quarter of this one year, you’re thinking about the company, one year from now, three years from now, five years from now.

How are we developing Kalani and Marina. What are we doing on a daily basis so that other women want to come and play for the Sparks because of how we treat people, how we do we things. The way we go about our business.

You have to thing about all of those things while trying to win today. Sometimes it’s easier, sometimes not so much.

Question: Would you want to go back and coach in the NBA?

Fisher: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I love basketball, so I think in some respects I’ll always want to be in the game, around the game. But right now I’m enjoying this balance. I think as a man, as a father, the ages where my kids are, this works.

That’s a big reason why I was able to say yes with so much conviction. I’m having a lot of fun. LA is a city that I love, that has treated me very well. So I’m not in a rush to leave LA for any reason.

Trying to stay full present and in the moment, I’m having fun and I’m learning and getting better and that’s what it’s all about.

Question: Have you learned anything about yourself about your first season coaching in the WNBA?

Fisher: I think that what I’ve learned about myself is that I really do love doing this. Leaving New York, how it happened, the way it happened, a lot of the untruthful conversation that was disseminated following my firing there, it can leave you feeling dark and cynical about organizational politics and culture and working with certain people, etcetera.

It’s been refreshing to learn again, the wiring or working in a team, working in an organization, developing relationships with front office, ownership and players. I’ve learned that I really do enjoy the chess of what this is.

I love working with players, I love being on the court. A year and half into it doing the job in New York, I didn’t really have the time to think about whether or not I was having fun doing it. I was thinking about trying to win.

That would be the first thing just getting into coaching right after playing, you don’t know if that’s your thing but I feel like now I do.

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