Can a 37-year-old still be relevant in the NBA?
At 37, Derek Fisher was easily the most influential player in the Lakers’ locker room, the true leader of that veteran team and the only guy Kobe listens to. So, what to do with Fish at the trade deadline? Trade him and free up some salary - because that is how you treat a player who has given so much to the organisation over the past fifteen years.
The Lakers, in case you missed it, sent Fisher to the Houston Rockets in the closing minutes of trade deadline day in exchange for Jordan Hill and a draft pick. Without suiting up for the Rockets, Fisher agreed a buyout and signed last week with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Fisher’s value in the autumn of his career is purely his experience. The point guard has performed time and time again, defying the odds and the critics, and is the quintessential clutch player. Ending up on the Thunder must be a dream match up for both sides because I can’t see the Thunder not making the Western Conference Finals - and adding Fisher gives them a tactical edge over the Lakers (should LA make it that far).
Fisher, after all, knows all the Laker defensive and offensive sets intimately. Add that to the knowledge of all the player tendencies and you already have the Lakers at a disadvantage. Kobe needed Mike Procopio to beat the Celtics, so why wouldn’t Durant and Westbrook want someone like Fisher? He also provides Durant and Westbrook some leniency as to who should be speaking up in the locker room or during time-outs because, let’s face it, Fisher has seen nearly every situation in basketball, and is the strong leader which may be the missing link to the Thunder’s championship puzzle.
OKC has been in a desperate need of a veteran like Fisher, and he has been looking for a place where he would be welcomed and respected by the players. This, then, is a dream fit. I feel confident in saying that Oklahoma City are not looking for Fisher to score or provide assists or defense, they pretty much have it all covered. All the squad needs now is an experience leader who has won championships (x5) and can help a young, extremely talented and determined team get to the pinnacle of the NBA.
Fisher needs to provide solid minutes off the bench to replicate the role Maynor held quite well until his ACL injury in January against the Rockets. Scoring has never been his forte in Basketball and it will not be required here either with two of the elite scorers in the league playing out of their minds this season in Durant and Westbrook. ‘D-Fish’ as ever just needs to bring the ball down the court and hit corner 3’s at a somewhat efficient rate; reminiscent of Steve Kerr for the Chicago Bullls, Fisher has a proven record of hitting shots down the stretch and is still capable at 37 of handling the pressure of winning another championship.
The Fisher trade was a response by the Lakers to their acquisition of the significantly younger and more agile Ramon Sessions from Cleveland (in the process sending away other veteran of the purple and gold, oft-injured mascot Luke Walton). Sessions’ role on the Lakers is significantly greater than Fisher’s had become – he has been added to the roster to speed up the team’s play, take some of the fast-break ball-handling responsibilities away from Bryant, and inject some drive-and-kick instincts into Mike Brown’s half-court sets. The addition of a new point guard was a necessary one for the Lakers, and Sessions has started well (13.3ppg, 6.7apg and 3.7rpg in his first 7 games), but popular opinion would be that Steve Blake would the PG to make way, not Fisher.
It would not surprise me to see the Thunder in the finals against the Heat or the Bulls with Fisher being the difference maker, just not the difference people expect a basketball player to make but rather the kind that only Fisher can provide.
The Lakers are now clearly rebuilding their team around whatever Bryant has left and the emergence of Andrew Bynum as a potential superstar center. The additions this season of Hill, Sessions and Josh McRoberts - not to mention the lopsided deal to rid themselves of Lamar Odom – have significantly reduced the squad’s age and refreshed the Lakers’ roster.
In the end, Fisher might get his sixth ring and leave Kobe to wallow in frustration and anger with this rather bizarre trade. The biggest highlight for me, being a Laker fan, is the no. 37 which Fisher has decided to wear.. A little part of me hopes he drew inspiration from MWP (the artist formally known as Ron Artest) circa 2010.