Heading into the offseason, the Lakers had a number of players who had the opportunity to play elsewhere this coming season.
Backup point guard Jordan Farmar left the city where he had spent his entire life, for New Jersey, in search of more minutes on a weaker Nets squad; the best dressed cheerleader of all-time in Adam Morrison was unsurprisingly let go before receiving an invitation to the Washington Wizards training camp; backup big man Josh Powell returned home to Georgia to play for the Atlanta Hawks; and reserve center DJ Mbenga’s whereabouts are currently unknown. While the Lakers lost some of their bench rotation to free agency, their main focus lay in retaining other key players, such as Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown.
Bringing back starting point guard Derek Fisher was a no-brainer for Lakers management. He may be 36 years old, but no matter what people say, he gets the job done. What Fisher lacks in speed and quickness, he makes up with basketball IQ, leadership and toughness.
People knock Fisher for being a liability on defense when covering point guards such as Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook. There’s no doubt those point guards are much faster and much more athletic than Fisher, but if you think about it, how many other starting point guards can stay in front of them? Not many. Additionally, even if Fisher does get burned, he has the biggest front line in the NBA down low to help him out. Even if a player gets by him, they still have to get past the Lakers duo of seven footers in Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.
Others jab Fisher for not being a “true” point guard. If you have been watching the Lakers for more than one season, hopefully you understand that the Triangle Offense doesn’t require a “true” point guard. The Triangle Offense is a two-guard front that only needs two guards. Not a point guard and a shooting guard, just guards. If you can handle the ball (among other things), you can be a guard in Phil Jackson’s (via Tex Winter) championship system. Fisher does exactly what he needs to do in this specific offense.
Pound for pound, Fisher is the strongest player on this Lakers squad. ESPN lists him at six foot one, 210 pounds (Kobe is only listed at 205 pounds). He is always willing to take a charge or lay a hit on another player to help the team. You don’t see too many players attempting to draw a legitimate charge (no, Joakim Noah and Anderson Varejao’s flops do not count in this argument) like D-Fish does night in and night out.
The presence Fisher brings to the Lakers rarely shows up in the box score, which is what hurts image so much. People who half-ass themselves in watching the game, then look at the box score and see he shot three for seven and let his man score 24 points on eight of 11 shooting think he had an awful game and should be sent to the bench. But what they didn’t see is the big three pointer he hit to cap off a Lakers’ comeback or the agonizing charge he took to get the Lakers an extra crucial possession. That’s the type of presence D-Fish brings to this squad, and even though three years and 10.5 million may have been slightly more than what the Lakers wanted to spend on a 36-year old guard, he will prove to be worth every penny of it–especially if the Lakers can three-peat (or dare I say, four-peat?)
Bringing back Shannon Brown was essentially the icing on the cake for the Lakers’ offseason. They had found their draft gems, brought back the Zen Master, kept Fish from falling for the mirage of a 2010 Heat championship and picked up a few free agent studs.
Being Kobe Bryant’s backup is almost as bad as being Peyton Manning’s backup (albeit, I’m sure not to many people have heard of Curtis Painter, while Shannon Brown is at least known by more than just Laker fans). However, Shannon has embraced the role and despite being offered more minutes by the Lakers green and white nemesis in Boston, he took the road less traveled by most 24-(soon to be 25) year olds, and picked winning over money.
With Steve Blake now in the fold and Sasha Vujacic poised for a season of revival (it’s his contract year!), his minutes might take a dip from last season, but he will still be a key component of this the bench mob. His acrobatic dunks, alley oops and blocks are an instant energizer for not just the fans but for the team. If you have ever been to a Laker game, you have surely felt that buzz that circulates the arena when he checks into a game; as it causes nearly everyone to sit on the edge of their seat, waiting for him to come out of nowhere and throw down an insane slam that people will be talking about for days.
At six foot four, Brown also has the ability to cover taller, stronger guards such as Deron Williams and Chauncey Billups. He may not be known for his defense, but when called upon he has the ability to slow down these types of point guards in a way Fisher and Blake might not be able to.
When it was announced Brown had signed for only two years and $4.6 million (which is less than he probably could have gotten from another team) it clearly displayed how committed this guy is. So many players would have taken job security and a bigger paycheck over a title, especially at his age. However, his desire to stay with the team that helped him jumpstart his career is truly a sign of great things, not only for Shannon, but also for the Lakers team as a whole.
Next: The New Guys