The trade deadline has come and gone and it’s bitter-sweet to be sure as the Lakers added a player that should help them a great deal but traded a player that has meant so much to their organization for so long.
In a deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Lakers acquired the point guard help they’ve sought, adding Ramon Sessions. Sessions has a variety of useful skills that will help this team. He’s a penetrating guard that can work in the pick and roll both as a set up man and as a finisher. When he turns the corner he’s a threat to get all the way to the rim to finish and that skill alone means the defense will need to make hard choices in terms of helping, especially those players guarding Pau and/or Bynum. He’s also a very good passer that reads plays ahead of time, meaning he rewards his teammates that move off the ball and dash into open space by hitting them on time with passes that allow them to finish easily. Basically, he’s a PG in the truest sense and for a team that’s moved to a more traditional offense this season, his skill set is a nice match for this team.
Of course, Sessions isn’t the perfect player and there’s a reason the Lakers could get him in the deal they did. Though he’s making over 40% of his three pointers this season, historically his jumper is shaky. If teams don’t respect his ability to hit the open J, the already dicey spacing exhibited on many Laker possessions will only be worse. This can be off-set somewhat by his ability to attack off the dribble because when defenses don’t close out he can hurt them but getting into paint or forcing help when he puts the ball on the floor, but he’ll need to make defenses pay with his jumper to truly be the player the Lakers need on offense. Defensively, his reputation is also of someone that doesn’t have good instincts and will make mistakes on that side of the floor. He’s not known to navigate screens well and his thin frame allows him to be overpowered by stronger guards. Of course, defending the elite class of PG’s in this league is a team effort and if Sessions can be brought up to speed on that side of the floor he may end up being a neutral defender. Which, if he’s helping on offense as much as he’s capable of, will be a net positive in the end.
Where Sessions acquisition would have caused the most issues was how he got integrated into a lineup that already had Derek Fisher and Steve Blake at his position. By my math, without trading or demoting one of those players, the Lakers had one PG too many and would need to sort that out. The Lakers, though, must have been thinking the same thing when right before the trade deadline came to pass it was announced that the team traded Derek Fisher and the Mavericks 1st round pick acquired in the Odom trade to the Rockets for PF/C Jordan Hill.
At this point, it’s safe to assume that the Lakers simply did not want to deal with the politics of demoting Fisher, a player whose voice is respected in the lockerroom and who provided leadership as both a veteran and a champion. Fisher is a prideful player and while his play has been in decline, he was still a key figure that his team rallied around when times got hard. With Sessions now in the fold and Steve Blake not dealt away, Fisher suddenly became the least productive player in a three man PG rotation and would have surely been the player whose minutes got cut.
But how do you ease him out of the lineup? How do you tell one of your leaders that his time as an on court performer is up and that he must recede to background while other, younger options take his minutes and his role? The fact is that for a first year coach and someone that doesn’t have nearly the clout in the locker room as the player he’d be demoting, there’s no good way to do this. At least not one that doesn’t risk a divided locker room with players potentially taking sides. The easiest thing to do, then, is to trade that player away and save yourself the difficult conversation and potential repercussions of demotion.
And so, the Lakers have traded away one of their leaders. Derek Fisher contributed to 5 championship teams. His shots against the Magic in game 4 of the 2009 Finals that forced overtime and then won the game will live forever. As will his game 3 performance against the Celtics a year later that clinched the game and put the Lakers up 2-1 in a Finals they ultimately won. Add in his historically hot shooting in 2001 that helped carry his team to an unprecedented 15-1 record in the playoffs and Fisher is a Laker legend. He’s on the Mt. Rushmore of Lakers role players. And now he’s headed to Houston for a serviceable big man.
There was a changing of the guard today for the Lakers. They’re probably better on paper than they’ve been in a year and a half and that’s certainly worth something. However, they’re certainly also lighter in the leadership department and definitely in the intangible qualities of having a guy on board that’s not only been there before but made sure the team left with the hardware. As I said earlier, it’s a bitter-sweet day to be a Lakers fan.