Friday, March 16, 2012

Why the Lakers Will Really Miss Derek Fisher

The Lakers are going to miss point guard Derek Fisher, who was traded yesterday to the Houston Rockets. But not for the reasons you think.

You can't argue with the facts. At 37, Fisher has slowed considerably, his skills clearly eroded. He was one of the primary weak links on the Lakers. With him at point guard, they weren't going to contend for a championship. So in one of two trades, the Lakers acquired Cleveland's Ramon Sessions, a scrappy, 25-year-old point guard who can score 10 points a game, consistently slither into the paint and keep up with the greyhounds who play this position in the NBA. Particularly a liability on defense, Fisher couldn't do any of that. So the much younger, quicker Sessions is definitely an upgrade over Fisher. But there's a drawback.

Who's going to control Kobe Bryant, who, according to several sources, is furious at management about the trade?  Fisher was the real Kobe-stopper. Opposing defenders couldn't stop him but Fisher could. He kept the lid on Laker star, a surly, ill-tempered, cold fish who's a real drag in the locker room. The other players struggle to deal with Kobe, but Fisher knows how to manage him, how to keep him cool, how to smooth, as much as possible, his relationship with the other players.

Fisher was not only his close friend, but, as anyone close to the team knows, his only friend on the Lakers. According to a source close to one of the players, Kobe, a really lousy, self-absorbed teammate, is always angry and without compassion, routinely berating and looking down on other players. With Fisher to keep him in check, Kobe was barely tolerable to the rest of the team. But now...

With Sessions at point guard, the Lakers will win more games and, most likely, challenge Oklahoma City for the Western Conference title. But the Laker players, with no one to soothe and pacify Kobe, are going to be miserable. In their best public-relations mode, with regard to Kobe, they'll continue to say all the right things--and not really mean a word of it.

With Fisher gone, leadership, which shouldn't be underrated, will be a problem. He was the real team leader. So who takes over now--maybe soft Pau Gasol or flaky Metta World Peace? You know who it won't be.