- Image 1 of 2
- Image 2 of 2
WEST POINT, N.Y. – A few days at the U.S. Military Academy can change the Knicks only so much. Notorious night owl J.R. Smith isn't going to start waking up at dawn like a cadet.
"I don't know if that would work with my schedule," Smith said. "That's a different lifestyle."
But it will help Derek Fisher build the kind of team he wants in New York.
The rookie coach ran his first practice Tuesday morning, a 2 1/2-hour workout that was heavy on defense and teamwork, which were both missing far too often last season.
Fisher and team president Phil Jackson decided West Point was the perfect place to work on the latter.
"To be a coach with the New York Knicks, starting practice first day here at West Point, where service to others and commitment to others and putting the team first is who these guys are, those are things that we want to be," Fisher said.
The Knicks weren't a strong locker room last season, when some players grumbled about former coach Mike Woodson's defensive schemes while going 37-45. Fisher wouldn't specify what his defensive plans are, but left no doubt about something else.
"His message was clear: We walked in this door together, we're going to win together, we're going to lose together, but we're going to have each other's backs through thick and thin," All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony said. "That's what we've got to have."
Fisher, who ended his playing career after last season, has a mentor in place in Jackson, his former coach who won an NBA-record 11 championships. Jackson mostly watched from the sideline, though came onto the court to speak with players and coaches at the end of the practice.
Fisher insists he's not bothered or intimidated by having Jackson watching, and Anthony said the players are committed to Fisher, rather than ask questions directly to his boss.
"For a young coach like myself who obviously completely admires everything that he ever was able to accomplish, fortunate enough to play for him, there's definitely some pressure to try to do things in a way that are consistent with success," Fisher said. "But other than that, it's the best, I think, to also be a young coach and also have arguably the greatest ever to do it right there monitoring, observing, but carefully and respectfully offering any suggestions or advice along the way."
Fisher faces the same challenge as his predecessor, trying to devise a plan to keep Amare Stoudemire healthy for a full season. So the veteran forward who underwent two knee surgeries two years ago was on the sideline for the last half-hour of practice, though Fisher said he would participate in the night workout.
Fisher does have a healthy Smith to start the season, which Woodson didn't. The former Sixth Man of the Year winner was working his way back from knee surgery at this time last year, but his only concern Tuesday was the large weapon being carried by the security guard who checked the team as it entered.
"I was like, 'Hey, man, I come in peace. I don't want no problems over here,'" Smith said.
The Knicks didn't spend any time on the triangle offense in the opening session, though likely will work on it before departing Friday. But there's more to learn at this camp than offense and defense.
"We know the history that's up here," Anthony said. "We know why they wanted us to come up here and have training camp. From a psychological standpoint, from a mental standpoint, just to get you locked in, just to get you focused. I think that's what these next four or five days are going to be up here at West Point."