The Delicate Dance

Darius Soriano —  June 15, 2011

You’ll find no bigger fan of Derek Fisher than me.

Over the years I’ve defended his play, preached about his value, and downplayed some of (most of?) his shortcomings. He’s a player that I have a huge amount of respect for; a player that I’ve seen as a vital ingredient to the recent run of success that the Lakers have experienced – not to mention the three championships in the Kobe/Shaq era.

However, today, the Lakers are in a conundrum when it comes to this player that I’ve so loved over the past decade and a half.

You see, Derek Fisher is a leader for this team. He’s also a clutch performer. The other day I was watching a video of the Lakers run to the 2009 title and right in the middle of that push was D-Fish, giving speeches in the locker room and the huddle then hitting key shots that won games. After I watched that video, I replayed clips from 2010 and watched how his game 3 heroics likely saved the series for the Lakers and ultimately helped propel them to the championship over their bitter rivals.

His tenure with the team is littered with the moments that will live well beyond any of us. Chapters on Laker championships will have his name etched in stone and he’ll stand side by side with true legends of the game and he’ll do so as a career role player. Normal competitors don’t reach these heights. Derek Fisher is no normal competitor.

But, he is a player in full decline.

While all the intangibles remain intact, the tangibles are eroding. His individual defense, while spirited, is below average. His shot making is as well. As much as he’ll still hit the big shot, it’s the ones that come in the non-pressure packed moments that don’t fall at a consistent enough rate.

And now, there’s a new coach coming on board. With Mike Brown’s arrival comes a new scheme on both sides of the ball that will ask more of the point guard position than Phil Jackson’s Triangle. We don’t yet know how different these schemes will be, but history tells us the lead guard will need to drive and kick more; will need to create off the bounce. These are not Derek’s strong suits.

Plus, Brown will also preach defense. And while defending most floor generals is a team effort, it does start with the man on the ball. Will Derek hold up on an island? Will he be able to stay with his man, chase off the ball, rotate and recover with a strong close out when needed? These are skills often best performed with younger legs than those occupied by the #2 uniform on the team we call ours.

The questioning of how Fisher will succeed is voiced with more frequency and vigor than ever before. And answering them with an understanding nod and the anecdote that he’ll “get it done when it matters” is harder now as the volume on the critiques drowns out those with who hand out the praise.

But, the man still commands respect. He’s the president of the player’s union and one of the most eloquent and level headed players in the game. His peers seek him out for guidance and listen when he speaks. After Mike Brown was hired, one of the first players he met with was Derek Fisher. They sat down at dinner and discussed what went wrong this past season and what could be done to fix it next year. His input was sought out; his stature demanded as much.

Plus, he’s Kobe’s right hand man. Kobe famously once said that Fisher is the only teammate he listens to. Fisher’s also the one player that doesn’t get the stink eye when he doesn’t rotate the ball to #24 when his arm is outstretched and calling for it. Their relationship goes back to full court one on one battles as rookies and thrives to this day because of the mutual hard work and dedication that both have put in to achieve so much. They’ve reached the highest heights together; have been through all the battles – won and lost – side by side.

But this game typically isn’t about sentimentality. It’s about production and results.

So the Lakers enter into a delicate dance with their long time, proud warrior of a point guard. They’ll need his leadership, his calm voice of reason, and his pleas for desperate play. But they’ll also need production and someone capable of executing what’s asked of his position on the floor. On twitter, Roland Lazenby said, “Fans fuss about (players) like Fisher. They do get exposed, but they bring so much in smarts and experience. Smart coaches wince and live with it.”

Next season, Mike Brown will have to find this balance. He’ll surely need the grizzled vet, as will his team. The question now, is can he afford to use him as much he may want considering the results he produces when in the game. Only time will tell. But for a coach that will have the egos of some of the league’s elite players to navigate, it’s a player in Fisher’s position that may present trickiest tango of all.

Darius Soriano

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32 responses to The Delicate Dance

  1. It is a delicate dance. But, no Laker PG has stepped up to the challenge of earning the starting spot of DFish. If Blake (possible) or Brown (not likely) can earn the starting spot or the Lakers acquire a starting PG, I am sure that DFish would be able to provide the intangibles in the locker room and on the bench as the 2nd string PG.

  2. Maybe we should bring Javaris Crintendon back!!!…

    [/end Sarcasm]

  3. It’s not so delicate in that we see no clear-cut replacement who is much better than him.

    Blake has a shot… but so did many, many others. We’ll see.

  4. Renato Afonso June 15, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    Ideally, Fish would come off the bench for… er… maybe we’re trading for a starting PG?

  5. Ramon Sessions / Steve Blake combo

  6. @ 5….Sessions may be the only guy of any value to our team we’d feasibly be able to get. When I say value and feasible in the same sentence, I’m meaning we could get Jerryd Bayless for the exception, but he’s not the kind of force we need. When I say feasible, Artest and Mike Conley’s salaries match so that works money wise, but not a real feasible trade. Sessions may be exactly what we need. While his stats don’t jump off the page, he’s heady averaged PER of 19. I did the trade in the trade machine of our trade exception for Sessions and Hollinger (whose analysis I’m very skeptical of) projects a +11 wins with just Sessions added. Now I’m not naive enough to believe that’s the case, but Sessions definitely can help. The trade exception works and is feasible as reports came out today that the Cavs are looking hard to move him and/or Baron Davis……..Fish whether, he or Kobe, likes it or not has to go to the bench under this new system. The triangle as we all know masked a lot of shortcomings, but as Darius stated above those shortcomings are plainly more and more obvious now. Fish can still come in and excel in crunch time though.

  7. Really good post. A lot depends on what happens with the CBA but regardless, I hope Fish can use this and/or next season to transition to a different role (if in fact he wants to remain in the game after playing). Given that there’s been such wholesale staffing changes, it would be nice to see him as a link from past to future.

  8. This would be an interesting post and a “delicate dance”three years. Now it’s pretty cut and dry. Derek Fisher has been awful the last three years aside from an historic game three against the celtics. The Lakers failure to have the guts to bring in Raymond Felton last off season, preferring to keep Derek Fisher happy, was obviously a terrible decision then and now. There is no question what Derek’s role will be next season. He will be a ln assistant coach type. His veteran smarts isn’t at all needed on an old team and his speeches will be just as effective without sweat dripping down his rippling biceps.

  9. Aaron,
    If you’re going to throw out alternatives to Fisher at least do so with a viable option that was truly available at a price the Lakers could afford. Felton signed with the Knicks for much more than the Lakers could spend. Last year he made 7 million and next year he’s slated to make 7.5 million. At that money, Felton was not an option for the Lakers as they that’s more than the mid-level exception they had available to them.

  10. First of all, Darius I have to commend you that you wrote a nice piece about D Fisher.

    D Fisher may be in a decline but on some given nights, he is a better player than the players suggested. His limitations in speed and shooting are compensated by making right decisions and executing the dirty work to wake up the team. Will I recommend him to be a starter? Flatly NO, however as a sign of respect to the guy who contributed to five Championships, give/name another PG other than those mentioned coming from cellar dweller teams who rightfully could fill that position. If he’s a rookie, he’s sensational enough to walk in the shoes of Fisher as a proven Laker Champ. Fisher is like an antique Ford Mustang. That car used to be the best among its flock but today, it could no longer compete at the local drag races. Therefore, give us the equivalent in quality, durability, leadership and w/ “common sense” PG. I wish I can fill that blank but I will leave it to the new Sheriff in town.

  11. Wow, a Derek Fisher post. I had no idea that his stats were this bad by being 6.8 points, 2.7 assists, and shooting just 38.9 percent (well maybe this one) last season. He will be around on contract for a couple more seasons, but he has to come off the bench from now on. The Lakers will just have to find a replacement PG it seems like, from somewhere.

  12. One of the motivations why they would like to join the Lakers, it has to be the ring. Like Artest, he could have gotten a better contract with other teams but chose the Lakers instead because he had a dream of Championship, new mojo and exposure to Hollywood. I am sure many of the players who used to play with the Lakers, boasts or consider a highlight of their career when they were with the Lakers, I can speak of Shaq, Horry, or even Sasha.

    Therefore, money may not be the only motivation why a player want to join this team, but it is always the biggest consideration in anyone’s decision.

  13. I love Derek, but he’s definitely got to be relegated to the bench. It’s not surprising to see so many Laker fans thinking Felton could do well for us – he did have some monster games against us. But he’s not a good fit for our team. To this day he is an immature individual and looks for his own shot too much.

    I think the most important aspect mentioned was the fact that Mike Brown’s offense requires its PG to drive and be able to kick it out. Realistically, the best player that is available is Ramon Sessions. The guy can play. He needs the right system and the right coach, but he is ready to thrive in such a situation.

  14. For any PG we take, I would pick defense over offense. We don’t need scoring from the PG position, and we definitely don’t need ball-hoggery from the PG position (Kobe does enough of that). What we need is someone who can function as a first line of defense against other PGs, not having to bring as much help as we did with Fisher.

    That’s the main reason why I’m apprehensive about Sessions, who is a very bad three point shooter, but a very good driver, distributor, and free throw shooter, who also has a reputation for playing bad defense. He is athletic, so there’s hope that with the right tutelage, he can become a good defensive player.

    At this point, if we got a guy like Sessions, we’d have a massive front court surrounded by 3 guys (Sessions, Bryant, Artest) who shoot <36% from three. Other teams will just pack the paint and force our perimeter guys to jack up threes.

    Ideally, a guy like Mario Chalmers would be perfect, someone who plays pretty good defense and has the confidence to take (and make) big threes.

    I have no problem with Fish being a backup and playing 10 minutes a game. I think it would have to be considered a failure for the front office, however, if we start next season with Fisher playing 25 minutes a game.

  15. Zephid – I think the Heat like Chalmers too, since they just made him a qualifying offer per AP.

    Of course, that doesn’t rule out the Lakers signing him, but the Heat can match any offer and keep him …

    Maybe the Lakers will follow Aaron’s suggestion of a year or so ago and pick up Monte Ellis. I’m joking, of course. About getting Ellis, not about the fact Aaron mentioned him as a reasonable option.

  16. I’d take Sasha at the point over Sessions or Felton. He might be too expensive as I don’t see him getting more than a Shannon money offer from the Lakers (burned once already). It’s the d league, draft, in-house, or Ebanks developing curly neal handles. I liked how Mcgrady was distributing the pill this year but I don’t see the team adding anymore old fogies.

  17. 14,

    I’d love to see some numbers to put his D in perspective. I suspect he’s not bad at all, actually.

    I’ve been keeping an eye on Ramon for a few years now, and while his game isn’t flashy, it’s effective. Check out 2010-11 PER for point guards in the league. Sessions is a top-10 PG (8th) and he played 81 games last season. The guy’s underrated, and definitely underpaid. Sure, he’s a terrible 3-point shooter, but shooting is a skill that can be taught (I hope they bring Hodges back, he helped quite a few of our players in ’09-’10)

  18. Igor, Ariza’s shooting is a success story in a league not exactly full of them (see: Shannon Brown). Besides, Trevor regressed right back after the ’09 postseason to his normal shooting standards. I wouldn’t want to bring in Sessions and bank on him learning to shoot. Not when we already have Steve Blake who we know can shoot (once his confidence goes back up with a new system).

    If anything, our answer to the PG problem lies within our roster.

  19. Shannon Brown. This is your shot.

  20. Darius,
    Felton signed for the MLE. We could have signed him would he rather play fpr the Knicks of the Lakers? We wanted Blake because he was a back up PG who wouldn’t take Fisher out ofnthe starting lineup.

  21. At least I thought Felton signed for the MLE. And I find it hard to believe the Lakers couldn’t do better than the worst PG in the NBA. Unless your name is Derron Williams there isn’t a perfect PG for this team. But what’s that Obama amended quote? Oh yea… Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the necessary. We need a better PG to compete and be able to play the kind of defense Mike Brown demands. We might have to settle for an average PG. But hey… That’s a step up from what we have now.

  22. how about allen iverson? he’s still plenty fast and gives us and able ball handler

  23. Warren Wee Lim June 16, 2011 at 4:25 am

    Sessions might be a viable option but I love the Spaniard’s game better. Toronto is on full rebuild so he becomes available by virtue of that position.

  24. Darius, you started out with:

    “You’ll find no bigger fan of Derek Fisher than me.”

    I think I can challenge that claim.

    Given the NBA championship performance of Jason
    Kidd at 38 and his “over the hill” teammates at Dallas, your post should be expressing gratitude for veteran Laker leadership.

    The Heat tried to sign Fisher last season, and started veteran Bibby in the playoffs. Despite youthful Chalmers spectacular threes, his turnovers and mistakes in the final minutes of game 6 were among the final nails in the Heat coffin–and he didn’t stop J.J. Barea.

    It was youthful speedster Corey Brewer that got almost no playing time for the Mavericks during the playoffs, not the old warhorses.

    Neither Derek’s seasonal nor playoff statistics declined this year–nor do they show any downward trend. Derek’s performance over his entire career has been amazingly consistent:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derek_Fisher

    Considering the performance of Maverick’s Brian Cardinale in limited minutes, there’s even hope for Luke Walton!

    The Lakers problems are tied to chemistry, not age–and certainly not Derek Fisher!

  25. 22: Not an option for far far too many reasons to recount here that common decency forbids.

    Bye.

  26. drrayeye,
    I’m totally on board with giving Fisher credit where it’s due. I think his leadership is invaluable and his presence in the locker room is one of the pillars that this teams’ success is built on (the coaches and players all speak about this).

    However, to claim that his statistics didn’t decline just isn’t correct. His numbers were down this year and have delcined in each successive year in LA (in this 2nd stint) in both per game and per 36 minutes measurements.

    Statistics aren’t everything and that’s what some of my overall post was about. Derek has immense value but that must be measured with his actual contributions on the court. I think Jason Kidd is an excellent comparison as both Kidd and Fisher are leaders for their teams. But, when it comes right down to it, Kidd hit the shots and played the defense that helped his team win this year while Fisher did not.

    This doesn’t mean that Fisher can’t contribute this upcoming season, but it does mean that the transition away from him being such a fixture in the lineup must begin. And that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t play. It means the Lakers need an alternative that can viably take minutes away from him. Last year that didn’t happen but in the upcoming seasons they need that player. Maybe it’s Blake, maybe it’s an outsider, but it needs to be someone.

  27. Darius,

    Look at the numbers in the season/playoff charts I posted. There’s no significant trend, including the most recent years.

    I’d do a careerwise regression analysis for you, but it’s pretty obvious that the slope would be near zero on any of the rows in the tables.

    Both playoff and regular season, Derek’s 3 point % actually went up this year from last year’s championship season, both during the season and in the playoffs. His playoff 3 pt. % this year was .412–better than last year’s .360, or his career percentage of .402.

  28. #27. There may not be a *significant* trend, but there is a trend. And it’s downward. To argue otherwise by cherry picking one or two % based stats – especially in a sample size of 10 games – isn’t convincing. Especially not when every other number points in the other direction.

    But again, this isn’t to bury Fisher. He has immense value. But that needs to be balanced with where he doesn’t play well to come to an end point where his playing time is determined.

  29. Imagine if Fisher was on this Miami Heat team this year. I think he would have proved to be a tremendous leader for that team. But the physical evidence is clear. Jason Kidd, who is in the same age group as Fisher, guards SGs, and is a knock down 3 point shooter (I had to take a second glance at that). Fisher is still 6’0″ tall, tough as nails, but is no longer a knock down 3 point shooter, and was never a great passer. Fisher has contributed on the bench successfully (Lakers and Utah). I know he’s a prideful man, but IF the Lakers find someone who can take his starting PG spot away, I don’t see why he would raise any ruckus about it.

  30. Darius,

    I “cherry picked” the 3 point playoff
    % because you contrasted Derek to Jason. Like Jason, Derek’s been doing this year in and year out.

    Of course, Derek’s been legendary in playoff crises. He held to more than his own this playoff year, when others weren’t doing as well–but the Mavs made 3 point shots look like free throws.

  31. I totally agree with your article. I’ve wanted d.fish to at least come off the bench the last 2 years. I know Farmar had his shortcomings but he really should have got the starting job. We could have had farmar starting and dfish and Blake backing up. Many argue and I agree sometimes that Dfish performs in the clutch but the fact that his shortcomings could be the factor that could have prevented us from being in such tight situation can’t be denied. If he can get to the paint more often, knock down the jumper w/I the 3 pt line and adequately defend his man Lakers could be unstoppable. I think the transition out of the triangle and Phil leaving is the perfect predicament to force mgt to adress the dfish issue that so many in Lakerland have been aggonizing about the last couple years.

    I don’t like sessions because he is not a threat from 3 point land ( which is what we desperately need); I’d like to try one of the draft picks (I remember we got a steal w/van exel in the 2nd round), trade the draft picks to a team that has a a pg they’re willing to part with, p/u boobie Gibson, or give Trey Johnson a try( which I’m sure they’ll do).

    But overall I’m excited about the roster moves, I think we have the best crew working and will put together something special to fill our PG void

  32. When Jason Kidd and mike bibby are mentioned I don’t think it makes a point. It’s not the fact that fish is old, it’s that he’s not J.Kidd( one of the top pg of all time) and bibby didn’t really do any better that fish did. Unless Aroyo was hurt I don’t think Miami upgraded at all by making that move. Just like the mike miller pick up, it just sounded got having the name on the roster. It’s really not all about age, I love dfish and still think he can contribut but not as a started. It puts too much pressure on the team when Kobe, artest or barnes has to gaurd those quick pgs by taking them away from other areas we really need them.