Is if keeps on happening, can it really be a cliche? Derek Fisher was perhaps the worst starting point guard in basketball over the course of the regular season. He did not have a great finals, statistically speaking. He was whisper-quiet for most of game seven. And who made the biggest play of Thursday night’s game seven?
Derek Fisher, of course. During game four of last year’s Finals, Derek Fisher hit the game-tying three that broke the Magic’s spirits in the waning moments of the game, ultimately leading to the Lakers taking a 3-1 series lead and the championship a game later.
On Thursday night, Fisher did himself one better. With the Lakers trailing by three points with six and a half minutes remaining in the game, Derek Fisher got the ball at the three-point line when Pau Gasol passed it to him out of a double-team. Rajon Rondo closed out hard, but too much time had passed already. Fisher set up, cocked the ball to his left ear, and let a rainbow shot fly over Rondo’s outstretched hand.
The ball nearly scraped the ceiling; while it hang in the air, everybody had enough time to realize exactly what was going to happen when the ball down. Swish. Tied NBA Finals. New record for most career 3s in the Finals. The Lakers didn’t fall behind for the remainder of the 2009-10 season. Just one more big shot and one more championship for a player who’s become synonymous with both.
Five seasons ago, Derek Fisher was the backup point guard for a struggling Golden State Warrior team. In fact, he wasn’t even a good backup point guard for a struggling Golden State team. Now he’s the starting point guard on a team that has been to three straight finals and won the last two. In fact, he’s the only Laker to have started every game for the past three seasons. The funny thing is, he’s not any better than he was on the Warriors. He’s still ludicrously slow. His release is still long, and he has a tough time getting any shot off that isn’t a wide-open catch-and-shoot opportunity. He’s not the best ballhandler or playmaker. He has trouble finishing, and doesn’t go to his right very well.
All Derek Fisher does is play physical defense, come to play every night, make open threes, and never back down from a big shot. That’s all Phil Jackson has ever asked of Fisher, and that’s all Fisher has ever tried to do for Jackson. And all Phil and Fish have done together is win five championships.
So where does Derek Fisher go from here? He was already never going to have to buy his own drinks in Los Angeles again. (Now somebody might just give him a bar.) He couldn’t really handle the grind of starting 82 games very well this season, and he won’t get any younger this off-season. Jordan Farmar isn’t a world-beater and is more of a traditional point, but he’s a big guard, and can knock down threes well enough to make use of himself in the triangle. He’s just been kept on an (understandably) short leash, and is still prone to mistakes on both ends of the floor because he doesn’t yet believe in himself. With some trust and tutelage, Farmar could absolutely become a worthy successor to Fisher.
Fisher is already the president of the player’s association; if he wants, some team will almost certainly have him as an assistant coach when he retires. Between now and then, Fisher will start to take on more and more of a player-coach role, increasing the time he spends mentoring the younger Lakers as his minutes start to dwindle more and more with the passing of each year.
After this game, a question presents itself: why doesn’t Fisher just retire now? Why not leave after yet another perfect moment, when the adoration for him is absolutely universal? Why subject himself to another 82 games of trying to chase around the fastest players in the league and all the criticism that comes with being the 36-year old point guard of the league’s highest-profile franchise? Why not go out after a blaze of glory rather than allow himself to fade away?
As much sense as that would seem to make, it looks like Fisher is going to stick around for at least one more year. Maybe he doesn’t want to leave Phil and his fellow Laker veterans. Maybe he loves living the life of a professional athlete. Maybe he wants to prove to himself and everyone else that he can still hang with the young guns. Maybe it has something to do with being the head of the player’s association. Maybe he knows that when he retires, his career will be remembered in the best way possible: a player whose failures nobody remembers and whose successes are etched into stone.
Or maybe he’s just afraid that he’ll retire with one more perfect moment still left in him, and he’ll be sitting at home when the Lakers end up needing it. Phil Jackson and Laker fans everywhere sure are.