Bond between Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant key in the Mike Brown era
In the upcoming Mike Brown era, Lakers guard Derek Fisher will, at worst, see his role reduced as the offense emphasizes a faster tempo. At best, his ability to pick up the speed will truly be put to the test.
With a defense that stresses preventing middle drives to the basket, Fisher's team-first mentality -- taking charges, causing deflections and keeping the unit organized -- likely won't be enough to offset the way he reacts to screen-and-rolls and his ability to keep up with young guards.
And with a likely prolonged offseason, which the Lakers hope will allow them to address their backcourt needs, Fisher will soon find out exactly how much the organization values the remaining two years on his contract.
But there's one specific and important area that won't change: Fisher's relationship with Kobe Bryant. It's remained strong ever since the two entered the league together in 1996 and has strengthened over time with five championship rings. Even if the level of talent between the two is wide, they share an unmatched work ethic. And their bond will prove critical.
Fisher has more pressing things to worry about right now than how his role will change under Brown's leadership or how Bryant will mesh with the new Lakers coach. As president of the National Basketball Players Assn., Fisher is in the middle of negotiations over a collective bargaining agreement that expires Thursday and will likely lead to a prolonged lockout.
But in the months to come, the Fisher-Bryant relationship will be key.
Fisher made the comments, below, to ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne during the 2010 offseason, when it was uncertain whether Jackson would be back for another season, but his argument still applies for the 2011-12 campaign.
"In my opinion, I could be as valuable or more valuable to the team if ... Phil wasn't back," Fisher said in the 2010 offseason. "Because then a lot of the value I bring in terms of leadership and the things that'd be necessary to be able to hold it together during that type of transition would be even more important."
It's an interesting dynamic because Fisher's presence as a leader on the team could grow at the same time that his starting role on the team isn't guaranteed.
Bryant became a key factor in persuading Fisher to re-sign with the Lakers last offseason, when Fisher didn't get as lucrative a deal as he had hoped. Bryant had also asked Fisher in a few playoff games the last two seasons if he could pick up Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook after Fisher largely struggled defending them. Should Brown take away Fisher's starting role (Fish reluctantly took a bench role in the 2003-04 season after the Lakers acquired Gary Payton), Bryant would surely play a big part in whether Fisher swallows his pride for the team's benefit.
Meanwhile, Bryant has said that Fisher is the only player with, in his eyes, the credibility and clout to criticize and confront him.
Fisher's return to the Lakers in 2007 helped to temper Bryant's frustration with the lack of talent around him. The Times' Mark Heisler has reported that Bryant is on board with Brown and only has maintained his public silence about the hire because of frustration over the front office not consulting him. But should friction crop up, Fisher will be there to smooth the way, much as Bryant did for him during free agency.
It's what Bryant and Fisher have done for each other over the years, although much of it remains out of the public eye. As the two embark on a new Lakers' chapter and the uncertainty that brings, they will need each other more than ever. Brown's success with the Lakers largely depends on it.
-- Mark Medina
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Top Photo: Kobe Bryant prepares to give point guard Derek Fisher a hug after Fisher introduced the Lakers' All-Star guard during the ring ceremony on Tuesday night at Staples Center. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / October 26, 2010.