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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