Fisher, Farmar, and Brown: Not a law firm
I've said it before, I'll say it again: The Lakers are a rock solid squad thick with talent and thin on major concerns. That doesn't mean there aren't interesting and potentially significant details to kick around. We've hit on the whole Complacency Thing. Monday, we talked about the playing time issues in the front court. Among the guards, there's an interesting dynamic as well, with Derek Fisher, Jordan Farmar, and Shannon Brown jockeying for minutes. Meanwhile, all three can or will be free agents the end of the season (Brown has the right to opt out of the two year deal he signed this summer).
Fish has made it very clear he'd like to keep playing beyond this season. Like most young players, Farmar wants to start. Brown is looking to build on a strong end to last season and continue to solidify his place in the league. Individually, they'll all be motivated to put up numbers. When we talked to Fish before camp started, he noted that it's up to the three of them, with the vet taking a leadership role, to make sure nobody loses sight of the big picture:
"It's a very interesting dynamic at that point guard position, because you have three different guys in three totally different situations. It's going to be very important that all three of us understand- starting with me, being the veteran guy and the most experienced guy, in terms of making sure that although I understand this is my "contract year," and I plan on playing beyond this year and want to continue to prove to myself and as well to other people that age is not this arbitrary thing that automatically means your performance has to decline. So I'm going to continue to push my performance, and those two guys will do the same thing. But there will always remain one commonality, and that's that we're on a championship caliber team. So myself, Jordan and Shannon will constantly have to fight with ourselves to keep that in mind, that even though we want to make sure we're holding on to our standing as far as what we want to accomplish professionally and personally, still the ultimate goal is to win a championship, and that has to fit into that picture. If it doesn't, especially because it's the lead guard spot, it could make it very difficult for everyone else."
Talking to Brown Monday at practice, he seems to have a solid handle on the issue, and a firm grasp of priorities. The relationship between the three of them, he says, is good:
"I think everybody knows what they have to do. Make the most of whatever minutes you get. Go out there, play hard, and let it fall where it may. Whether it be at the lead guard or the two guard, the parts are interchangeable anyway. We really don't have a point guard. But it's all about the team. you can't win a championship without the team, anyway. We don't have (any) point guard quarrels or nothing like that. We just go out there and try to play hard and try to make each other better."
Winning a title, particularly with a very talented and deep roster, requires sacrifice. A couple years ago, the Dodgers had a mix of veterans and young players that turned toxic as individual interests and egos began to clash. The Lakers aren't in an identical situation, most importantly because they have a different class of veteran in the locker room, but it's fair to say that in sports the motivation to do the right thing can sometimes get muddied when it conflicts with individual ambition and the payoffs that come with it. We saw how it can play out last year, when Lamar Odom initially balked at the notion of coming off the bench. He came around, and instead of a problem the Lakers were left with incredible strength and depth in the rotation and plenty of team harmony to boot as Odom's sacrifice, as it were, became a symbol in the locker room of what championship teams do for each other.
I expect similar things from the three headed monster. Fisher makes a living at this sort of thing. His value to the Lakers and around the league is as much seen in this sort of leadership as it is in on-court numbers. Brown is a hard-working, tough player, no doubt working to establish his place in the league but still humble, coachable, and unlikely to rock the boat.
Farmar has the most potential to mess with team chemistry, and at this time last year I'd have been more worried. Certainly he's displayed an... um... call it healthy confidence in his ability, chafing periodically at what he's seen as too limited a role, but I was genuinely impressed with the attitude he showed down the stretch, through the playoffs, and heading into last offseason. It seemed to indicate a growing level of maturity, and an understanding that the best way to get what he wants is to shut up, work hard, and play well. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, while wondering what'll happen if his PT shrinks precipitously. I still have some reservations. (My guess is he'd be shipped out if he fell from the rotation.)
It helps as well that the Lakers don't rely on traditional point guard play, and that Brown can play the two as well (perhaps stepping on Sasha Vujacic's minutes, but that's another issue). Phil Jackson has oodles of practice in keeping a lid on this sort of thing, and it's not exactly like Kobe Bryant is tolerant of shenanigans. Most importantly, on a winning team, players don't generally make waves since success on the floor is the best antidote for dissension. This team is built to win.
But just like the questions of fourth quarter playing time, it's an interesting dynamic likely get plenty of attention over the course of the season. Ultimately, there are only 48 minutes in a game, and all three are likely to have times when the minutes aren't doled out in their ideal way during key years in their respective careers. On a different team, it could be a problem. Here, I'd be surprised.
UPDATE (12:36 pm): Contained in this story are some good quotes on the subject from Farmar.
(Photo: Getty Images)