NBA Finals: Derek Fisher comes up big yet again

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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. 

Lakers’ Rajon Rondo has fluid drained from hand slowing his recovery from surgery

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Rajon Rondo has been out more than three weeks following surgery to repair the third metacarpal bone in his shooting hand (his right hand), and while there has been no official timeline he was expected back in the next week or two. He’s been out on the court before recent Lakers’ games getting in some work.

But he has now hit a bit of a setback, Lakers’ coach Luke Walton said on Wednesday. Here is what Walton said, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“There’s a little bit of swelling,” Walton said at Lakers shootaround on Monday in advance of his team’s game against the Miami Heat. “We’re going to shut him down for a few days then get back out after it again.”

It’s not clear when Rondo will return. He was averaging 8.5 points, 6.5 assists, and 4.5 rebounds a game before the injury.

The Lakers have gone 8-4 since Rondo went to the bench with his fractured hand. Without the veteran point guard, LeBron James has had the ball in his hands more as a playmaker (to Magic Johnson’s frustration at times), paired with Lonzo Ball (who has started to show some real chemistry with LeBron). The Lakers offense hasn’t been particularly good in these past dozen games, bottom 10 in the league, but they have balanced that with a top 7 defense. The Lakers are getting wins thanks to that defense and enough LeBron shot creation to get it done.

The Lakers are going to have to keep getting it done and now without Brandon Ingram, too, who is expected to miss a few more games with a sprained ankle.

Report: Bulls execs John Paxson and Gar Forman backing Jim Boylen

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Bulls players have made clear their thoughts on new coach Jim Boylen’s abnormally frequent and lengthy practices, his harsh public critiques, his five-man substitutions:

They don’t like it.

Not every player feels the exact same way, but enough were fed up to refuse to practice yesterday – the day after a back-to-back, a time teams almost never practice. Everyone compromised on a team meeting, though players reportedly also complained to their union.

But Boylen says he isn’t backing down – and it sounds as if his superiors support him.

Boylen, via Mark Strotman of NBC Sports Chicago:

“My job…is to try to push our guys to a place they can’t take themselves,” he said. “That’s pushing them outside their comfort zone. That’s what my job is. That’s what the Reinsdorfs are paying me for.

“I explained that to them – ‘Hey guys, everybody wants it comfortable, everybody wants it safe. Well, I don’t think you become great in that.’ So it’s going to be a little raw for a while, it’s going to be a little rough for a while. And maybe there’s a point where it gets not as rough but all of a sudden it’s got to be rough again.”

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

The fact Boylen cited ownership is telling. Phil Jackson praised Boylen to Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf after Boylen met with the Hall of Fame coach last summer. And according to team and league sources, executive vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman raved to ownership about Boylen’s message during Sunday’s meeting, which Paxson and Forman attended.

I wonder whether Paxson and Forman actually believe in Boylen or just feel as if they have no choice but to support him. Their last coaching hire, Fred Hoiberg, flopped to the point questions emerged about Forman’s job security. Paxson already declared a plan to keep Boylen for next season. Maybe Paxson and Forman can’t dump Boylen without bringing too much scrutiny upon themselves.

But the status quo isn’t sustainable. Boylen can’t keep belittling his players and running them into the ground without inciting a rebellion. He must ease up at least a little.

A theory that gives the Bulls the benefit of the doubt (that they don’t necessarily deserve): They already know this is a lost season, and playing for a higher draft pick is their best strategy. Boylen’s harsh practices will both help them lose and instill good long-term habits. Plus, his presence ensures players will welcome Chicago’s next coach. Even someone more demanding than Hoiberg would now suddenly be a reprieve.

Bulls coach Jim Boylen: ‘It’s going to be rough for a while’

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For the past few years, as the lead assistant to Fred Hoiberg with the Bulls, Jim Boylen got to be the “bad cop” to Hoiberg’s more mild personality. When Hoiberg was fired and Boylen moved into the big chair, he ramped up that old-school style — he called out the team’s conditioning and had them running suicides and doing pushups in practice (things rarely seen at the NBA level). Boylen was running long, grueling practices — including one the day after the team got back from a four-game road trip. He had film sessions right after games when guys were still emotional. Boylen did hockey substitutions a couple of times, taking out all five starters at once.

When he called for a practice the day after a back-to-back that ended with a 56-point loss to the Celtics, players pushed back. There were team meetings called by the players (and coaches, there’s a lot of people trying to spin this). Boylen said this is how he coached and he learned from Greg Popovich, the players had to trust him, and the players said you’re no Gregg Popovich and that trust is not there yet. It’s earned, not given.

The day after a series of meetings, the tone was a little softer, although Boylen was not about to back down. He said that it was only a couple of players who pushed back against the practice, not all of them, and he is clearly frustrated in this NBC Sports Chicago video.

Boylen also admitted things would not be easy, but he wants the players to trust him, as several Bulls writers Tweeted.

Boylen feels he’s in the right place. Will the players learn to trust him? One day after the meetings, things appeared better.

That’s easy to say at practice, we’ll see what it’s like when adversity hits.

Warriors named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of Year

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The three-time NBA champion Golden State Warriors are the fourth team to be honored as Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year .

The Warriors join the 1980 U.S. hockey team, the 1999 U.S. Women’s World Cup soccer squad and the 2004 Boston Red Sox as the other team honorees.

Sports Illustrated announced the winner Monday, and editor-in-chief Chris Stone said they have been thinking of some way to honor the Warriors during their run of three titles in four years. He also acknowledged that there were a couple years where Steph Curry has been in the conversation.

“There is something transcendent about the team where the sum of their parts was apparent from the beginning,” Stone said. “What they have built into a dynasty is a function of empirical success. They’re really a generational team. I don’t know if, in my lifetime, there has been a team where the pieces have blended so beautifully together.”

Stone also said that the Warriors’ honor is more about the celebration of the organization doing something unique over an extended period while the other teams were honored for what they did in a certain year.

Alexander Ovechkin, who led the Washington Capitals to their first Stanley Cup title, Tiger Woods and LeBron James also received consideration, but Stone said the Warriors felt like the favorite when they repeated as NBA champions.

“In the same way they play, they seem to speak in a single voice,” Stone said. “The unity of message with the Warriors is the same way we refer to LeBron and his answering some of the hard questions. They did it forcefully, but also civilly, in a way that helps advance conversations.”

The Warriors will receive the award during a ceremony in Los Angeles on Tuesday that will air on NBCSN on Thursday.

“This is an incredible honor and one that certainly signifies our Strength in Numbers philosophy as a team and organization,” Warriors President of Basketball Operations/General Manager Bob Myers said. “Our success is due to the contributions of every single player, coach and staff member in our organization; for Sports Illustrated to recognize this unique dynamic is truly special.”