Derek Fisher should still be named starting point guard
The offense that made him an integral part of the team in years past has vanished. But that doesn't mean Derek Fisher can't run the new one.
The overwhelming public support for postseason presence disappeared this last season once he couldn't duplicate his clutch playoff performances. But that doesn't mean Fisher can't bounce back.
Fans have argued that the Lakers need to address their upgrade at point guard. But that doesn't mean Coach Mike Brown should suddenly strip away Fisher's starting job.
So how does that work? How can I argue that it's important the Lakers go after Chris Paul or Deron Williams during next year's free agency and expect Fisher to still keep his starting job next season? How can I break down the various scenarios the Lakers can upgrade at the point guard spot and believe Fisher's role shouldn't be drastically affected? Before everyone jumps to the comments section and provides the easy retort that the answer points more to my faulty logic, understand that these arguments aren't mutually exclusive.
Fisher, who turns 37 today, faces declining athleticism and speed. The triangle offense's disappearance make it clear that his years are numbered. He'll likely no longer command the same presence he once had. Should the Lakers acquire Paul or Williams next year during free agency, Fisher should rightfully take a bench role whether he accepts it or not. Brown's offense will need a speedy and younger point guard. That'll eventually force the Lakers' front office to find those players. But that doesn't mean it'd be wise for Brown to suddenly disregard Fisher's achievements and demote him, particularly with Steve Blake as the only other option. Frankly, Brown needs Fisher's support.
Little of what Brown will encounter next season will involve a clear-cut formula. He needs to ensure he has Kobe Bryant's respect without being seen as a doormat for the Black Mamba to simply step over. Brown needs to limit Ron Artest's off-court distractions, but give him enough leeway so that he doesn't completely space out in games. Brown needs to demand a culture change while also giving the players enough space to freely accept it.
With Fisher? Brown should demand more accountability but also realize that keeping things intact, such as Fisher's starting job, would prove to be one necessary concession that ensures a stronger relationship with Fisher, who in, turn, can also bridge Brown's relationship with Bryant. That doesn't mean Brown should be a pushover for Fisher, but there are ways to bolster the point guard position without reassigning Fisher to the bench.
It remains unclear, however, how Brown will handle it. It also remains unclear how Fisher views next season or his possible role under Brown's system, since our questions to him two weeks ago centered on the NBA lockout. Blake provided a few answers in a recent conversation, saying he'll have a "more traditional point guard role," but made clear that Brown never brought up playing time to him when they met before the NBA lockout.
The answers Brown and Blake provided on what the point guard role entail also appear completely contradictory.
"The one thing is it will be an equal opportunity offense where the one, the two or the three can bring the ball up," Brown said. "All the smalls are interchangeable. It's not going to be too much different because in the past here, they had multiple guys, even including Lamar, bring the ball up. One of the things we like to emphasize includes attacking the clock. We want to get the ball from the backcourt to the frontcourt within the first four seconds or so we can get to a second, third or sometimes a fourth option without our backs being against the shot clock. We'd like to get the ball up the floor a little quicker than what they've done in the past."
"This past year, we had a two-guard front where a lot of times I wouldn't even bring the ball up," Blake said. "Now it's more of a typical point guard role I'll probably be able to excel in more. I'll be more comfortable in being able to just react and not have to think as much. You're always thinking. But the triangle is different. You have to learn it a lot more. This will be easier for me to acclimate to this new offense. I think I'll be more successful that way."
Whether these contrasting answers will lead to confusion on what the actual offense will be is a topic of discussion for another day. But let's just assume the offense gives enough flexibility in enforcing these two conflicting concepts. Fisher would excel in sets that don't require the point guard to bring the ball up the court, while Blake would fit in more when primary ball handling duties point to him. Should Darius Morris crack the roster, he could mix in both sets, ensuring a reduced playing for Fisher.
Odom has laughed at the notion of whether it's important who starts or not, often arguing it's more important how many minutes he commands and what type of role he provides. Fisher wouldn't suddenly go on a locker room rampage should he lose his starting position. He reluctantly accepted a bench role, after all, in the 2003-04 season and excelled in it. But Fisher acknowledged in his 2010 exit interview that he views his starting job as important, and, in my view, a symbolic badge of honor that signifies his standing with the team.
In the Lakers' opening night victory last season against the Rockets, Blake actually took away plenty of Fisher's minutes, including playing in the entire fourth quarter and netting the game winner. Fisher afterward didn't offer a hint of frustration and actually credited Phil Jackson for riding the hot hand. Should Fisher show some of his weaknesses in defending a speedy and young point guard or have an off shooting night, Brown's most effective way of holding him accountable points to lowering his minutes. But that puts the pressure on Blake to produce, a quality he lacked for most of last season and served as the main reason why Fisher's minutes actually increased from the 2009-10 season.
Then there's the defense.
Fisher surely deserves the criticism about defending quick guards on screen-and-rolls. But that won't be as much of an issue if the Lakers actually execute their defensive scheme properly, something Brown has said repeatedly will be the main focal point. As much as Fisher struggles to keep up with those young guards, he fights through picks, gets deflections, draws charges and constantly points out rotations on the floor. That means when he does get beat, the Lakers still have a solid front line that should slide over in stopping drivers into the lane. Surely, the Lakers can't continue to give Fisher free passes on this, but the rest of his teammates should be held equally accountable should they fail to stop the pick-and-roll.
The above suggestions don't address the core problem: The Lakers simply lack a superstar point guard needed to properly run Brown's offense en route to a title. Unfortunately for the Lakers, their heavy payroll and the weak free agency class prevents them from making serious moves this season to address it. So for now, the Lakers must upgrade from within. It's crucial, however, that one of those solutions doesn't involve Brown taking away Fisher's starting spot.
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Photos, from top: Fans take photos of Lakers guard Derek Fisher and Bulls guard Derrick Rose (behind Fisher) as they arrive at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila for a pair of charity games last weekend against a selection of professional players from the Philippine Basketball Assn. and the country's national team (Credit: Bullit Marquez / Associated Press); Lakers point guard Derek Fisher tries to get a shot off around Celtics center Kendrick Perkins in the first half of Game 2 of the 2010 NBA Finals. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times); even if Fisher's skills are declining, he should still remain the team's starting point guard. (Alex Gallardo / Los Angeles Times)