Former Los Angeles Lakers point guard Derek Fisher was announced as the Los Angeles Sparks next head coach on Friday. Fisher had an unsuccessful stint as NBA head coach with the Knicks from 2014-16, earning a 40-96 record, but will start his next role with way more talent than he had then. The expectations will be sky-high.
The Sparks’ announcement comes just a week after former head coach Brian Agler, who won the the championship in 2016 with the team, formally resigned. He gave the team a month’s notice, according to ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel, so the coaching search had been underway for more than a month. At the press conference, Sparks general manager Penny Toler said she was unsure why Agler decided to leave, and made clear that this wasn’t a force out. Agler’s resignation was curious to most, as he’d led the team to success in his four seasons, including two trips to the Finals.
Fisher has plenty of familiarity around the Sparks franchise aside. Playing for the city’s men’s basketball team, he has a common friend in team owner Magic Johnson. He won’t be the only former NBA player-turned head coach in the league, either. Former Cavalier and Piston Bill Laimbeer heads the league’s newest franchise, the Las Vegas Aces.
Shortly after the announcement, though, Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve tweeted, “Sometimes I ponder what it would be like to have access to nearly 95% of a job market.” Seven of the W’s 12 head coaches are male.
Toler answered the question of why she chose Fisher instead of a woman head coach at the presser:
I’d like to say the GM is a woman.
I don’t look at coaching as man or woman. I look for who’s the best person for the job. Now the world unfortunately looks at it like ‘you have to be this gender to coach this gender.’ I don’t. I look at who’s the best person for the job, who is going to have the best chemistry for the team. I think the world is finally catching up to what my philosophy is and what our organization stands for as far as diversity.
The world is just catching up and understanding that Becky Hammon can coach a men’s team. Kristi Toliver... even a Candace Parker. I actually think I can be go over there and be GM of one of those teams and win them a championship.
I think the world is just catching up now to understand that woman can do that. Not so much look at a woman team that hired a man as a coach. I’m hiring the best coach. But I do think the world is catching up outside of the Sparks that women can go over there and coach. So the next time I’m hoping in I won’t say 10 years, in 3 years, that I won’t get asked the question ‘Why did I hire a man coach?’ When it’s just understanding that we hired the best coach for the game.
What does Fisher have to prove?
That he can lead a team not only to the playoffs, but deep into the playoffs. Those are the expectation in L.A. The team is spearheaded by a pair of MVPs in Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike, and arguably the league’s best two-way point guard Chelsea Gray (who is expected to be brought back as a restricted free agent.) The Sparks have a three-headed beast built to win now.
Fisher struggled mightily in New York, granted he had a fragment of the talent. The Knicks were the league’s worst team by net rating in 2014-15, his only full season, and finished No. 23 the year after.
That won’t do for the Sparks, who were one of the league’s most disappointing teams in 2018, finishing No. 6 in the 12-team league, and losing in the second round of single-elimination playoff games.
Fisher will have to adjust to a brand new league quickly.