Friday, March 16, 2012

THE OLD GUARD



Searching for Slava’s debut post was titled ‘The Intangibles Exposed’. I tried making the point that Derek Fisher wasn’t all that enigmatic, but more of a meat and potatoes guard who wasn’t afraid to do the dirty work. The writing wouldn’t have won any awards but for some reason, it was my top traffic post for several months. You hope to build readership along the way and the Fisher post eventually began to drop. It took about a year to fall out of the top ten, or more accurately, for other pieces to rise past it.

I’m glad I got to watch his career. I remember his rookie year, remember how he began picking up minutes when Phil Jackson arrived (the first time). He rotated in and out with guys who are no longer in the league. More recently, his declining skills were much discussed but people forget that he was always streaky – I recall some abysmal stretches in the early years. Still, he always felt he could shoot his way out and made some choice buzzer-beaters along the way. You can get a championship ring by sitting on the bench. You can luck into a couple of them though contractual quirks. You don’t get five unless you have just cause to get five.

Derek Fisher left after the ‘04 Finals - the year of the Big Exodus. He went to Golden State and then to Utah. After the 2007 playoffs Fisher asked out of his contract and returned to Los Angeles where he felt his daughter’s retinoblastoma recovery would best be served. He left $20 million on the table. He rejoined a team in turmoil - Kobe Bryant had recently asked for a trade. Derek became a co-captain and starting point guard once again (aka life after Smush). He was seen as a calming influence on Bryant. Pau Gasol arrived halfway through the season, and that of course was the real turning point in the team’ fortunes.

Derek Fisher never missed a game after returning to the Lakers. He suited up 447 times including the playoffs, and he started 447 times. Would it have been hard to come off the bench to relieve Ramon Sessions? No doubt. Is it hard to give up hundreds of millions of dollars in a new CBA in order to preserve the game? I would think so. Fisher understands compromise and sacrifice.

Phil Jackson set the table for his last stand and the team let him down – their collapse against Dallas was as ugly as it gets. Jackson left as he said he would and it was abundantly clear that the team needed new leadership and new pieces. What followed has been one of the lesser chapters in a storied Lakers history. Heir apparent Brian Shaw was given a courtesy interview and hung out to dry as management brought in new candidates. Mike Brown was hired. Most of the remaining staff was fired and the bloodletting coincided with the start of the NBA lockout, a seamless transition during a seamy time.

As president of the players association, Derek Fisher found himself negotiating with what we called hardliners, characters who stalled and snickered and folded their arms. And workers lost their jobs and players went overseas and if you don’t think the season came close to being lost, you weren’t paying attention. The Buss family stood to lose more than most. Three months later they decided to save what they would have had to pay Derek next season - $3.4 million. Then again, Jordan Hill makes $2.86 million so I guess the savings are actually more like $540 thousand? This apparently, is what’s being called 'basketball reasons' these days. Thank you for your service.

Mitch Kupchak held a presser, explained that he hasn’t actually spoken to Derek but he will. At some point. He said it’s hard, but you have to separate the emotion in order to keep moving forward. I’m a bit unclear about this forward motion stuff. Anybody remember Magic Johnson calling Jim Buss out on TV a couple weeks ago? He said it was the most disappointed he's been in the organization in 35 years. Fish was the guy who called the players meeting, said they all had to come together. And they did.

Derek Fisher has the highest three-point field goal percentage in NBA Finals history. He ranks second in Finals three-pointers made and he’s played in 209 playoff games - fourth highest in NBA history. I don’t know if they keep records for taking charges but I always enjoyed seeing him on the floor with that stunned expression – who me? I won’t get to see him lay Luis Scola out again, unless I’m a fly on the wall at Rockets practice. That’s assuming they don’t just buy him out. With that massive salary of his and all. So long Fish – one of my favorites. Always.

8 comments:

  1. its a disgrace that they traded him

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  2. That extra comma was unintentional, but it actually works in this case. . . .

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  3. Sad to see Fish go. He really was the glue. Hard to know what will happen with the team chemistry now. But as tough as he is, his defense just hasn't been strong enough. We need some speed. Time will tell if this is the right move. No doubt we'll miss him and his clutch shooting!

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  4. Thank you for your many years of dedicated service Fisher. That said, if his presence on the team meant he would continue to take away minutes from Blake, and more importantly Sessions now too, then for better or worse he needed to go. He simply did not fit into the new offense where a point guard must create shots for other players. His lack of court vision was somewhat excusable in the triangle, but now plain and simple he was hurting the team. Blake has developed a certain chemistry with Bynum that results in a couple alley-oop dunks per game and he moves the ball quickly to other players on both sides of the court. Sessions will no doubt do the same. Fisher was simply incapable of making quick, accurate passes to cutting players. It's not hate, it's just a fact.

    Again, thank you Fisher, you will always be remembered for pretty much single-handedly winning game three of the 2010 finals and for a few other great plays at random moments, but it was time for you to either accept a role deep on the bench or to move on. Maybe trading him was a "disgrace," I don't know, but the Lakers are a better team for it. There, I said it, now let the roasting begin...

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  5. Roadkiller - I agree with a lot of what you're saying. I'm not sold however, on the notion expressed by some, that Fish would have been a distraction, or that he could not have found a way to accept a new role. Over and over, fans have advocated for Derek to coach at some point. If one is to believe that he's capable of helping the team in a leadership role without playing, then why assume that he couldn't continue as a positive presence this season? Additionally, injuries do happen - they are an unfortunate part of the game. Fisher would have been a decent insurance policy in the playoffs. He's been there time and again, and championship experience counts for something.

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