"Tough. Fierce. Competitor," Los Angeles Lakers coach Byron Scott described first-year New York Knicks coach Derek Fisher ahead of Thursday night's game at Staples Center. "I've just always looked at him as a winner, the consummate pro. Does whatever it takes. Doesn't take any mess. One of the toughest you ever come across. Will guard you but will also knock the crap out of you."
"D-Fish is one of my favorite people," Scott added.
The Lakers' coach has a unique perspective on Fisher. Back in 1996/97, when Fisher came into the NBA as a fresh faced rookie out of the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, Scott was in his last season with the Lakers. While Scott is often asked about Kobe Bryant that season, few focus on the fact that Scott was also present for the start of Fisher's professional career.
Describing Fisher as a tough guy who plays both ends and has championships to show for it, Scott almost sounded like he was dictating his own personal bio. Since Fisher has now crossed into coaching, the parallels became even tougher to ignore.
"A little bit," Scott laughed, when NBCLA.com asked the 53-year-old if Fisher reminded him of himself. "I'm wondering if he's doing the same thing I was doing in my rookie year [as a coach], where I was throwing chalk boards all over the place and screaming and yelling and kicking chairs and all that stuff."
"I think he's a lot calmer than I was," Scott smirked. "See, he had the Zen Master here. I didn't have that calmness about me my rookie year as a coach, so I just let everything out."
Back in 2000-01, Scott's rookie season with a clipboard featured his New Jersey Nets finishing 26-56 in a season to forget. Entering Thursday night's contest at Staples Center, the New York Knicks have a 12-51 record, making them the worst team in the NBA. Playoffs have not been a thought for Fisher's Knicks, and few would blame the 40-year-old former point guard if he starting kicking chairs and throwing chalk boards at this point.
However, looking back at Scott's coaching career, Fisher can feel optimistic that the NBA landscape can change quickly. In Scott's second season on the bench, he led his New Jersey Nets to the NBA Finals, where they would lose to the LA Lakers. The following season, Scott again brought the Nets to the brink of a title, but the San Antonio Spurs got the better of Scott's Nets on that occasion. For both coaches, the tale of the Nets missing the playoffs and going to the NBA Finals in back-to-back years can be a source of inspiration.
For Thursday night, though, the going nowhere Lakers and dead last Knicks place Fisher and Scott on opposite sides, but that doesn't mean Scott suddenly feels like Fisher is the enemy.
"I love Derek," Scott said. "I wish him nothing but the best except twice a year."
One of those two times is Thursday night, when the Lakers and Knicks tip off at 7:30 p.m. Pacific Time.