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Derek Fisher, on the offense, Phil Jackson's coaching style and learning

There's almost always an upside to extended conversations with Derek Fisher, and it's typically two-fold.Derek_fisher First, he's a given for introspective, thoughtful copy. Second, the discussion will often take unexpected turns that spotlight additionally interesting topics. Eight or so minutes with Fish after Monday's practice proved no exception.

This particular chunk of conversation began with a discussion about the recently stagnant, struggling Lakers offense, then ended up delving into the essence of what makes Phil Jackson unique and- in the eyes of many- extremely effective as a coach. Here's what Fisher had to say:

Over the last couple of games, you guys have faced a lot more double teams in the post.  Is the best way to counter those defenses just hitting outside shots?

    Some of it is shooting the ball better, but some of it is also having better spacing, so that the person that receives the pass out, if his shot isn't there for him, there's space on the floor to swing it, then swing it, (then swing it) back inside.  Those are the problems we're running into.  We're not really that concerned about guys making shots, ultimately.  We're concerned about the lack of execution that comes from if the pass is kicked out of a double team, or just offensively coming down and not ever really seeming like we've gotten into an offensive set or flow of any kind.  Those are the things that are bothering us the most, the coaches and obviously, as players.  We're confident we'll make shots if we get good open shots. 

So that's why things have looked a little more stagnant the last game and a half or so?

    Yeah, we're just kind of locked into throwing the ball down to Kobe (Bryant) or throwing the ball down to Andrew (Bynum) and even though those guys have had success with that at times, there's been kind of an in and out flow for everyone else.  Ron (Artest) has had good moments, and (then) hasn't. I've had good moments, haven't.  Sasha (Vujacic) has hit some shots, sometimes he hasn't. That's kind of going all the the way around the whole team.  So as we improve our spacing and execution, I think you'll find that we'll have six, seven, eight guys playing in the flow. The ball moving well.  Even if guys aren't necessarily getting a lot of shots, the shots will be higher quality and everybody will feel involved and you'll see more of a team game happening.  So far, I think the Phoenix game is the closest we've come to that this season, and even during that game, we had some stretches where we were still too focused on forcing the ball into guys when the ball has to move for us to be successful.

AK: Does that lack of spacing come from what the defense is taking away or you guys just never getting it right to begin with?  

Mk5djhdd_-_space_madness_cover    No, we're not even close to setting it correctly.  (Laughs)  We're so far away from, in the game at least, the type of spacing and execution that we practice.  And that's what today's practice, the whole two hours was spent on: Setting up correctly.  Other than maybe my time in Utah, I've never been on a team where every day, we generally do 80% of the same things that are related to spacing, ball movement, player movement, guys being in the right spot so you know where you're going to get your shots from.  You have the ability to get back on defense if the shots don't go in.  You have the ability to rebound if the shots don't go in.  And the way we're doing things in the game, we're just not allowing ourselves those opportunities. So that's something we really have to step up our commitment and be a much more disciplined team.

    We've shown some stretches of being able to do some things right, but right now, we're just not even close.  Because we're so talented, we still figure out a way to win seven games, but we could easily be 6-4 or whatever.  We had a couple of overtime games.  So we have a long way to go, and we understand that. We're hopefully going to get healthy.  Get
Pau (Gasol) back in there.  Kobe will be day-to-day.  But that'll help a lot.

(AK's NOTE: Before talking with Fisher, I asked Phil Jackson about adjustments being made against the Lakers' assault on the paint, and he felt that defenses were in fact making adjustments that alter their ability to properly space. Thus, it's probably a little bit from column A, a little bit from column B. But either way, Fisher emphasizing how the onus starts with preparation and attention nonetheless holds.)

When you're working on setting up and you've got Lamar Odom (currently starting at power forward) vs. Pau Gasol, obviously such different players, do you still want to set it up the same way, even though they do different things?

Yeah. Our offense, it doesn't really matter who's on the floor. Obviously, you have different guys who have different strengths and weaknesses, but it doesn't change the spacing on the floor and where guys will be setting up. What type of things that we should be able to execute and take advantage. Pau's another guy we can put in the post, take advantage of his size and passing ability, but still, we gotta space out correctly around him. We can't just give him the ball and then just stand there and kind of watch him do his thing.  (Pause, grin)  Although some of us feel that since the rest of us have playing for ten games and he hasn't, that we should just give him the ball every single time. Just let him get beat up and worn down and smacked across the head.  Let him catch up with the rest of us. Then we'll start spreading it around. (Laughs)

When you talk about not setting up correctly, is it a matter of certain guys still being unsure, or simply a matter of not paying attention to the details?

    To me, it's more of not paying attention to the details. Ron (Artest) is the only that still has a lot of questions about how to respond or what happens if we call this or do this, and that's to be understood. But what would make his life a lot easier is if the other four guys would do the thing right, because there's only one place for him to be, if the other four guys are in the right spots. We're slowing down his learning curve by not paying attention to the details, and that's not fair to him and it's not fair to the team. Regardless of the win and loss record, we could just be playing much better.  Sometimes you play good and you still may lose because the other team plays good, but we could be playing much better if we really were paying attention to more details.  

(AK's Note: The point about everyone else needing to be on point for Artest to get up to speed is fantastic. He's learning through a player-provided blueprint, so if the blueprint sucks, the ceiling for his successful immersion automatically lowers)

Phil's not the kind of guy that's going to cram details down your throat this early in the season, and I've come to believe that some things get lost in translation if you just keep on (cramming details). Season's too long. Eight or nine months until June, that's too long to have a coach already start having a coach down your throat every time you make a mistake. So that's something we have to take more seriously ourselves and not just wait for him to throw us the rope, so to speak.

From here, an interesting little exchange between me and Fisher.
Phil Jackson whistles to his players AK: I would think, at least, that you also begin to truly understand it better as you discover it for yourself, as opposed to just having it.  If you're told something but don't really understand it, you may not be much better off than you were to begin with.

Fisher: Do you have kids?

AK: No, but I've been around them. Taught them.

Fisher: You sound like a parent there.  That's what I try to tell my stepson all the time as far as homework. It's one thing to just kind of get the homework done or come to us for the answers and we kind of help you through it. But if you don't fully understand it and the test comes, that's why you're gonna have low test scores, if you don't understand it yourself.  It's not for us to try and help you understand it all the time. So it's the same concept.  

And p
eople still question it. They wonder why didn't (Jackson) call a time out. Why did he bring in these substitutions?  Why isn't the rotation this? But he understands that all these guys need to be able to help us win. And all of them need to be in and out of different situations in order to fill a collective, vested interest in what's happening. I've really come to believe that it's the best format there is. He's got the results to prove it.  

If nothing else, we learned today that Derek Fisher occasionally listens to sports talk radio.  

But his endorsement of the "letting players figure things out" approach isn't simply the by-product of years spent under a coach that clearly trusts the hell out of him. Players with relatively little time around PJ often feel the same way, too.  

About a week ago, I was talking with Josh Powell about an unrelated topic and mentioned Phil's "allows players to figure things out" reputation. Before I could even toss out my actual question, Powell immediately interjected, declaring it "a good thing."

"There are a lot of teams, there are a lot of situations, where they don't allow guys to play or make some of those mistakes to learn and grown from.," he said. "A lot of coaches, the way that they handle things, they may mot have the patience for whatever's going on.  You usually have less of an opportunity to improve."

Phil Jackson at the parade I wondered if being forced to truly understand a situation without the benefit of having it spelled out ultimately makes you a better player.  "I think it does. At the end of the day, it's pressure, that's what makes players, too.  To be able to succeed and still find a way to get it done.  At the end of the day, it's all good for everyone."      

Fisher and Powell's sentiments get to the heart of why PJ can sometimes frustrate the crap out of fans, but has ultimately enjoyed an enormous degree of success: He doesn't coach for the regular season. He coaches for the playoffs. That's not to say he's indifferent towards the regular season or could care less about losing. Neither is true. But Jackson's goal is ultimately centered around the bigger picture.  

There's a well known saying about the bigger picture: You can win a battle, but lose the war. Along these lines, Phil clearly sees the regular season games as "the battle(s)," and the playoffs as "the war."  He wants to win every "battle," but whatever decisions are made will prioritize the "war" first and foremost.  If losing a few battles means being better prepared, particularly mentally, 
for the war, it's a trade off PJ will make every day of the week. I happen to agree with that philosophy. Losses can be very bit as valuable a commodity as wins. Maybe even more valuable, depending on what gets taken away from either result. 

Obviously, this approach isn't fool proof.  Like everything, "time and place" plays a role, and I don't think PJ has been perfect along these lines. For example, I thought he let Game 4 of the series against Houston last year get way the hell outta hand. Beyond simply letting the game slip beyond reach so quickly, the on-court action was absolutely haywire, frazzling the team to the point where I doubt they were even thinking straight. A head-cleansing deep breath- in the form of a time out- was clearly needed and this was a "risk/reward" scenario where Jackson should have tread more conventionally. But by and large, there's a method to Phil's "madness," if you even want to refer this as such, since the thought process itself isn't really all that radical when you remove the purple and gold fanaticism and just evaluate it at face value.

Phil's forcing players to truly learn.  

And more importantly, to have whatever is learned turn instinctual.  Something can be explained over and over, but it likely won't click without application and living (hopefully with eventual success) through specific experiences.  And in particular, that's important for a system like the triangle, which is extremely reactive.  That doesn't mean that literally "nothing" ever gets explained, of course. By definition, a two hour session devoted to the finer points of spacing proves otherwise.  But like most things in life, you really learn the most through trial and error, whether it produces positive or negative results.  Luckily, Phil allows players that luxury.   


Photo: Derek Fisher dribbling: Credit: Elsa, NBAE, Getty Images
hoto taken by Elsa/NBAE/Getty Image
Photo: Phil Jackson at the Lakers parade: Credit: Jeff Gross, Getty Images, North America

Comments () | Archives (22)

The comments to this entry are closed.


1. I really wish the comment section was back at the bottom.

2. Stackhouse might turn out to be a Mitch Richmond, Jimmy Jackson, Byron Russell minute type player.

3. Fish would be great off the bench.

4. Farmar is not Starter material and has been inconsistent.

5.What about Ellis for Sasha/Amo? Thumbs up smiley face? Thumbs down Gladiator Joaquin Phoenix steeze?

Posted by: Charles | November 17, 2009 at 02:20 PM

Btw, luke out 6 WEEKS!! Holy son of a motherless goat!!




Fish is finished. I don't know what else to say.
Stackhouse is a good option, he can score some points for the second unit since they all suck. I won't be the first to say Trade Vujacic but it is not that easy. Who would like him. All he does for this team is hugging and screaming like a bitch

Where are those predicting this Lakers squad will beat the record of the Bulls (72-10)? Come out be brave to face that this present squad will not even win 65 much more 72. Artest just add "brute" not "character" to this team.

I thought Luke was having the best season since the new basketball in (06? 07?) - he's one of the few guys that can get the ball inside on entry passes, and he's been knocking down his open looks. His defense is consistent... it is what it is.

Hey, I have no problem with Phil watching the team blow a game in the 3rd quarter and no time outs being called, especially when said game is in the first quarter of the season. What I don't like is his crappy rotations.

The value of education is crucial when you get to crunch time in an elimination game. They had better learn all their lessons by then.

Hey, any indication from Fish if he'll pull a Walton and do the right thing?

My respect for Luke went up astronomically last season when he used that "stablize the bench" line to get TA the starter role - Luke really is a team player. The question now is, will Fish prove to be as much a team player as Luke?

Fisher's insights show why he will make an excellent Laker assistant along side coach Byron Scott when PJ decides to step down. Great sidebars AK, you've got the best job in the world!


This is a long season. We have just crossed the first hurdle with an incomplete squad. Artest is just heating up, ask that question again in March we're ready to give you a better answer. Were you sold by the homers idea of a perfect slate? Well, you'd lose a lot of money if you follow the tales of the homers. We used to be called "whack-jobs before it became lakers blog. lol!


Why do people keep hitting the panic button?"

Posted by: Jon K. | November 17, 2009 at 02:52 PM

It's all fun fodder reaction. Hooking up the K Bros with hits on the blog bro.

Look, be realistic Fisher has never been more than a slightly above CBA talent whose only real ability has been to fall down in front of the player he is guarding and hope for a call. At his age the fall off from that pretty low level is dramatic and displayed every night as the opposing point guard kicks his ass around the arena.

What should be more of a concern to Laker fans is that in terms of NBA minutes played Kobe is a really old 31 and will (maybe already has begun to?) breakdown very rapidly. When that happens it will be ugly; you think Michael went out looking bad, wait until Kobe's body can't keep up with the gigantic Kobe ego.....

heres what we were afraid of with ron ron


Jon K,

Panic button=early season fodder for the masses. If theres one thing this good for, I hope it keeps the Lakers management from becoming complacent. We've got tradeable contracts with young players, and an elite core of players or veterans at 1-6.

But at this point, I too don't see the need to panic, especially when we're debating the pros and cons of Jerry Stackhouse and Allen Iverson.

I'd rather see them go after a guard who's either a defensive specialist or a shooter or a veteran in the mold of a Ron Harper. There are people here who say Kirk Hinrich would be a good fit, and I wouldn't disagree.

There is method to the madness and this article is spot on. My team the Cleveland Cavaliers had one of the best records in the regular season and oops where are the rings? The big picture is definitely what is important. For now I'm an Odom fan until playoffs but the concern about the bench is valid and Gasol's return won't be the answer to all that ails the Lakers.

MJ went out pretty darned good in my opinion.

He was still dominant at age 35, and when he played for the Wizards, he still had some wizardly magic left in him. The biggest problems he had were his knee and his lousy teammates.

If Kobe is still posting up and playing like MJ was when he's 40, then we have a nice long luxurious ride ahead of us

I know Fisher is slow about to enter the twilight of his basketball career. I think we have not seen the end of Fish yet, he can do some miracles on a smaller segment. He makes better decisions and a good leader within the team. If you consider Luke a high IQ player, then Fisher may be our valedictorian among our scrubs. He will not be chosen a representative by the players union if Fish is just an ordinary cog out there. However, the best thing for Fisher is r-e-s-t. He starts the ball game for 5 minutes and let the young stalwarts carry the PG till we reach the last 5 minutes, then summon Fisher again.

If you analyze Laker losses or close victories, our players made lots of mistakes on hurried offenses whether fast breaks, alley hoop passes or shooting treys. What we need is smart basketball and play ball on our edge and command, not on the strength of other teams. First and foremost, play a hard nosed defense. This is an often repeated cliche' "a good defense leads to easy offense." We can't win games by jerking around there like what Sasha is doing or dribbling to the end of time with Farmar or Drew's hurried offense to the hoop. Got to be methodical and find where the openings are, go with the flow, study movements and habits of opponents, anticipate passes, give the ball to the player who is playing his best game on the floor. In other words, go with smart basketball by using your head on offense and heart in defense rather than just running around out there without any direction and shooting at will without any reason. By playing smart basketball with Kobe and Gasol, that's how we won the Championship last year.


"What should be more of a concern to Laker fans is that in terms of NBA minutes played Kobe is a really old 31 and will (maybe already has begun to?) breakdown very rapidly."

Hmmmm, since it has been brought up more than once by bloggers such as yourself, this situation seems to be more of a "wishful thinking" on your part more than a concern of ours.

Would you please save all of us some time and just pick one of pfunk's posts at random and cut and paste it here?

Donna, kudos on rooting for another team but presenting a nicely worded opinion on what ails the Lakers, on a Lakers site no less.


IMO, the bench does need sorting out, but the point that always seems to get hammered home is that the triangle is a difficult system to master. You tend to master it as a unit.

So unless the people you bring in to replace part of a bench that's been to 2 finals are talented enough to overcome when the triangle breaks down, you have a steep learning curve that you'll have to climb in midseason and late season.

In addition, we haven't seen what life is like with Pau back with the starters, moving a very capable Lamar back to the bench.

Anyways, those are some of the catch-22s of making a signing or trade right now.

Must be a good topic, I’ve managed to pile up a few comments-
I assume this means y’all will start a new thread about five minutes after I post- ah well.

Great interview- AK for Pulitzer consideration, Fish for President. Or maybe even the real seat of power, Stern’s job.

Can somebody paste a reasonably non copyright infringing summary of Chris Sheridan’s list? I’m too poor and intelligent to buy insider.

Just a another thought, brought on by a large number of comments; Why is it assumed that the whole second string be a completely autonomous unit? Why does the bench need a ‘leader’ so badly? I don’t spend much time on other teams blogs, but is there a ‘bench leader’ on the Celtics? San Antonio or Cleveland? On any of the Bulls six championship teams? Who the heck spends all their time worrying about the ninth or tenth guy in the rotation? When the playoffs start, the bench is going to be cut to about three guys anyway.

Yes, I can understand that an argument could be made that having a good floor leader at all times is a good thing, but I can’t understand why it is just assumed that there is a big void out there unless we have a crazy elite pg who is going to get maybe 20 minutes a game, max.

Mamba- yeah, you slacker, you missed one. Put HoustonLaker on. Also, I hate to bring it up again, and I am aware of the honor of being in very exclusive company, but I have to re inquire- How the heck did I get included in ‘the morning crew?’ I’m never up before like noon.

LakerTom- I beg your pardon? I didn’t get a chance to post anything about adding stack, and I gave a qualified ‘no’ to AI. Of course, if my crappy impersonator posted a comment that i missed, I’m a little disappointed that you can’t tell that bland-ass fake from the real thing.

Re The Dude Abides- I do see a point there- Didn’t we have Tony Gaffney in preseason “just in case of long term injury’ or something?

Rob- I can see your point in that Jerry Buss definitely would gain financially by letting contracts expire- except for one little thing- we are trying to repeat as league champions- Teams that are trying to win the whole enchilada don’t usually take short term profits over depth of talent.

“2 losses and people want to bring in Iverson or Stackhouse? Why not bring in Earl Monroe and George Gervin too?....
Posted by: puddle | November 17, 2009 at 02:15 PM”

I actually would kind of like to see that.

Jon K- so it doesn’t get rusty. I mean, if we waited until we had reason to panic, we wouldn’t have pushed it since early in 91 or something.

BTW- completely unrelated, but I hate the Patriots, and I think Belichick made the right call. Just sayin.

"Why does the bench need a ‘leader’ so badly?"

At the beginning of the season, you signed a statement acknowledging that you understood and would comply with all the bylaws of being a Lakers fan. Did you actually read them?

2.c. Following non-victorious contests, in which the bench either

i) scores less than 27% of the point total or
ii) has a FG percentage less than or equal to 42%

Lakers fans will decry the lack of leadership on said bench. This will include, but is not necessarily limited to, calls for the immediate signing of at least 2 of the four highest-paid available free agents, and/or demands that the Lakers trade for the former all-star who has played on the most teams, not including the Lakers.

It's all there in black-and-white; I strongly recommend you read them before you embarrass yourself again!!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Fabulous job, Andy! That is the kind of fresh, intelligent, insightful, and proactive journalism that makes us scream for more. True inside stuff you can’t get anywhere else. You and Brian are making and breaking news as opposed to just reporting it. Bravo for a great game plan and execution.
The combination of your great questions and Derek’s uncanny ability to see things with a uniquely perceptive point of view were a perfect match. As for how to win in basketball and I think how coach in the NBA, it is easy to see why 30% of NBA general managers selected Fish as the player most likely to become a great NBA coach. His explanation as to why Phil Jackson is such a great coach was the best analysis of Phil’s coaching style and philosophy I have ever heard. Thank you for sharing it.
I find myself caught between my short-term desire to see Derek hang on and continue to play and contribute at a high level to the Lakers ongoing dynasty and my long-term aspirations to see him become the head coach of the Lakers down the road, even possibly in some way as Phil’s successor. Derek has the personal charisma, proven leadership, championship experience, triangle knowledge, basketball IQ, interpersonal skills, and purple and gold bloodlines to be a great Lakers coach.
Considering the fact that 30% of NBA general managers, I would love to see you ask Derek if he has any ambitions to become an NBA head coach once his playing career is over. That would be another great scoop for you guys to make because Fish always raises the level of everything around him. It would be a smart move for the Lakers to sit down with Fish and talk about his future plans. It might be in the team’s best interest for Derek to retire after this year and become an assistant coach. He could then conceivably take over for Phil after he wins his 11th, 12th, and 13th NBA rings.
For those who think I am totally crazy to want Derek Fisher as the Lakers next head coach, I suggest you sit back and make a list of the other candidates and try to find one who is a better fit not only to follow Phil as coach but also to continue the same coaching style and philosophy and triangle offense that has made the Lakers such a great team the last decade. Replacing Phil Jackson is the single most daunting challenge that the Lakers will face in the next five years. It is the single do-or-die decision. Nothing else will determine how long the Lakers dynasty lasts and purple and gold rules.
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Great article..I agree
Its interesting how Phil says is worried about winning too much sometimes because then the players are less likely to listen to you regarding necessary changes..

Tim4 show - I agree.In the same way history remembers that Shaq was easily the MVP in the threepeat (cos he got to pummel the pathetic east in the finals)it also seems that Jordan's tenure with the wizards was a failure but any forty year old that can average 20 points a game in the NBA,have big scoring nights,hit game winning shots and defend world class athletes twenty years younger every night and nearly lead that group of scrubs to the playoffs 2 years running is amazing in my book.Hell just that he'd even want to try is amazing. It adds to his legacy if you ask me both his character and his play. I like the fact he decided it was his legacy to enhance,tarnish or completely destroy and did exactly what he wanted.



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