I’m fairly certain no player who has averaged less than six points and three rebounds in his most recent year, and has gone unsigned heading into the start of the next NBA season, has ever gotten as much attention in an offseason as Derek Fisher.
If you doubt me, first consider there are no less than 15 Bleacher Report articles written in the last month that all center on the same question – should the Los Angeles Lakers resign the 38-year-old Fisher?
The two sides of the argument each have legitimate reasons.
On one end, Fisher is old and has definitely slowed down in the last couple years. He never had the lateral quickness to stay in front of the league’s quickest point guards, and that shortcoming likely cost the Lakers a few wins in the 2011 Playoffs (Fish matched up with Chris Paul in the first round, then Russell Westbrook in the second round).
As Yahoo’s Kelly Dwyer put it in March, 2012:
Fisher, to be quite frank, has been absolutely brutal on both sides of the ball over the last two seasons for Los Angeles. He can’t stay in front of even the NBA’s slowest point guards, at this point, and he offers precious little offensively save for the occasional (as in, “32 percent of the time he shoots one”) 3-point basket. By every conceivable standard, he was a millstone for the team on the court. No amount of leadership and smarts (two things Fisher provides in spades) could make up for his shortcomings.
At the same time, it’s those smarts and leadership qualities – along with a strong friendship with Kobe Bryant – that make him an enticing possibility for the Lakers to resign. Even if the once-clutch Fisher doesn’t have another .4 second miracle in him, his intangibles will eventually land him a spot on somebody’s roster.
The Bulls were apparently showed interest last summer, but according to various reports since then Fisher isn’t interested in playing for a team till mid-season, only to be shoved down the bench once Derrick Rose returns from injury.
Other possibilities besides the Lakers include the Thunder again, the Nets, Mavericks and Celtics. The most logical place for Fisher, if he wants to play an entire season, is the Cleveland Cavaliers, which lack a dependable point guard behind Kyrie Irving (sorry, Booby Gibson).
The safe bet, though, is that Fisher waits it out until spring and goes to a team that has the most attractive combination of postseason potential and available minutes at the point guard position. There’s a strong chance this will be determined by an injury yet to happen.
If the Lakers want him again, it’s likely he’ll want to resign despite the cold way the franchise jettisoned him last season. The combination of staying near his LA home and likelihood of winning a sixth title with his buddy Bryant would seem too strong to pass up.
Let’s say this happens.
Would Fisher represent an upgrade over the current backup point guards – Steve Blake, Chris Duhon or Darius Morris? Instead of looking at basic box score stats, or relying on younger-vs-older player stereotypes, let’s look at the advanced statistics which better tell us the whole story.
Take a deep breath. Do not fear the “pocket squares,” dear reader. For their path is one to enlightenment.
Despite one of the most talented starting lineups in NBA history, the Los Angeles Lakers started this preseason with an 0-8 record. The general consensus is that once Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard recover from nagging injuries and start syncing with Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, everything will be relatively fine in Laker land. That by the time spring rolls around, the veterans will have mostly figured it out, and LA’s 18th championship banner will come ever more into focus for the bleary-eyed unbelievers.
There’s also a contingent that holds out hope around this same time next spring, former Laker Derek Fisher will make his long awaited return after being cast out of the promised land last March. No matter how old Fisher gets (he’s 38 now), some of these fans believe he will never run out of the same .04 magic that propelled the Lakers to the 2004 NBA Finals.
But it won’t be Fisher’s on-court prowess that will ultimately cause Los Angeles to resign him. If that happens, it will be because one of his best friends remains Kobe Bryant, and he commands a respect from Bryant few other teammates ever have before.
Because before all those champagne-soaked June nights, before the cable show cameos and the millions of Twitter followers, Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant were just two NBA rookies hungry for more court time. Before passing the tests which have made them household names, they first tested each other.
It happened early in the 1996-97 season, at a practice in Milwaukee, Fisher recalled in his autobiography “Character Driven.” The duo played two-on-two with fellow Laker rookies Corie Blount and Travis Knight, then went one-on-one after Blount and Knight left.
It quickly got physical. Bryant, then 18 years old, kept using his off hand to hook Fisher and part a path to the basket, Fisher wrote.
“I told him he was fouling me and he didn’t say a thing, just looked at me with that Kobe glare.”
“I was not going to back down, so the next time he tried to hook me, I fouled him – hard and with a push. He didn’t say anything, just took the ball out again. I fouled him again. Things went from heated to boiling.”
“We got in each other’s face about who was pushing whom. Finally we were chest-to-chest jawing at each other, and even though Kobe is six inches taller than me, I was not going to back down. Besides, I weighed nearly as much as the skinny little dude. I’d had enough and I said, ‘You hook me like that one more time, and we’re going to go? Understand me?’”
“Kobe spat back, ‘Why wait? Let’s go at it right now.’
“Fortunately, it didn’t come to our punching each other. We let it drop, and I think we both looked at each other a little bit differently after that. We had tested each other and we’d both passed and earned each other’s respect.”
Respect, indeed. Bryant, of course, would star in the Lakers’ five championships over the next 13 seasons. Yet, his three worst seasons in that span came during the only years - 2004-2007 – Fisher played elsewhere. Which is why in 2010 Bryant didn’t hesitate to call his teammate from Little Rock the “heart and soul” of the Lakers’ most recent title team.
“We spent long nights together as rookies, battling each other, playing full-court one-on-one games,” he told Sports Illustrated. “We’ve been through it, so he can come to me and say, ‘Kobe, you’re [bleeping] up.’ We owe that to each other.’”
By the way, I got a chance to talk to Fisher earlier in October for an Arkansas Life magazine profile article. I asked him who won the game mentioned above.
“I don’t actually recall if we finished the game if there ever if there ever was a score –to be honest – to say that we both finished,” he said. “I scored my share of points, he scored his share of points. We would generally get closer to knocking each other out before finishing a game. So we’ve had our moments where one got the better of the other.”
Steve Nash helps Los Angeles Lakers contend for title of most stacked starting lineup in NBA historyPosted: July 6, 2012
LeBron-Wade-Bosh. Paul-KG-Ray. Kobe-Shaq-Malone-Payton. Hakeem-Pippen-Charles.
So-called NBA super teams are far from new. If anything, they’re in danger of veering into the ho-hum. Every couple summers, such a talent core is cobbled together and the pundits have a field day discussing the possibility of a looming dynasty. As October rolls around, discussion of a run at the ‘96 Bulls’ NBA record of 72 wins in a season ensues. This happens every time. Given such cyclical predictability, is two-time MVP Steve Nash’s arrival in Los Angeles really all that special?
The reason? Start with Udonis Haslem, Kendrick Perkins, Devean George and Cuttino Mobley. And, for previous superteams, recall Kurt Rambis, Marc Iavaroni and Wali Jones. For almost every team that has tried to put together a starting five for the ages, there has been some “glue guy” speedbump to potential era-bestriding superiority. Plenty teams have put out three or four All-Star starters but one of their teammates, the one known for unselfishness, or effort, or defense – anything but mad game built on skill – inevitably screws up his team’s shot at unfathomable sweetness.
Well, the days of a Rick Fox or Byron Scott in the starting lineup are over in the City of Angels. Steve Nash is coming to join four bonafine All-Star caliber players, giving the 2012-13 Lakers some serious elbow room at the table of contenders for the title of most accomplished starting lineup in league history.
Here are top candidates: