A few weeks ago the Lakers cast aside their starting point guard and co-captain, a fan favorite and locker-room leader, Kobe Bryant's best friend on the team and a guy whose clutch shots helped secure five championships for the franchise.
It was a tough, emotional decision, but it had to be done.
Now, when Derek Fisher returns to L.A. with his new team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, for Thursday's game at Staples Center, he may be extra-motivated to beat his old team. After all, it surely hurts to feel like you're no longer wanted.
But the Lakers did what they needed to do.
To compete for a championship this season, the Lakers needed a younger, more athletic point guard who could help take pressure off L.A.'s Big Three of Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol on both ends of the court. They got one in a trade with the Cavaliers just before the deadline, and 25-year-old Ramon Sessions has been just what the doctor ordered.
Sessions is averaging 13.3 points and 6.3 assists in seven games with the Lakers, the last three as a starter. He's shooting 52.8 percent from the field. Compare that to Fisher, who averaged 5.9 points and 3.3 assists in 43 games for L.A. this season while shooting 38.4 percent.
But it's not just numbers. Sessions adds a totally different dimension to the Lakers. He's a fast point guard who can push the ball in transition, get off his own shot in a halfcourt offense and really put defensive pressure on opposing point guards. The Lakers haven't had a point guard like that since maybe Norm Nixon.
There are ancillary things that stream from that. Because of what Sessions can do, it's easier for everyone else to play their game. Gasol and Bynum get easier shots because Sessions can penetrate, draw defenses and get them the ball. Matt Barnes is a big beneficiary because he runs the court and moves well without the ball, so Sessions can find him in transition and in open spaces.
Then there's Kobe. Let's face it, opponents haven't really had to guard Lakers point guards recently, so Kobe's had to basically work against 1 defenders all the time. There's been pressure on him to initiate the offense, create all the shots and be the only real perimeter threat. It's very taxing to do those things every game.
With Sessions, Kobe can still lead the league in scoring, but he can be more efficient and take easier shots. There don't need to be as many isolations. He can play off the ball and come off screens or spot up. I know Kobe really liked and respected Fisher. Fisher was someone he could talk to and who made him calmer and more relaxed. But I think he'll really like playing with Sessions. They can make each other better.
That's the other side of it. Sessions makes the game easier for his teammates, but these are also the best teammates he's ever played with. They'll make the game come easier to him. He'll have more driving lanes and better outlets when he penetrates. They don't need him to be great. They just need him to play a role.
Of course, that's what Fisher did so well for so many years with the Lakers. He never tried to do too much, but he was somebody who could hit big shots and be a leader. I think the Lakers will miss that. He's somebody who everyone respected and he unified the locker room.
If they wanted, the Lakers could have kept Fisher even after trading for Sessions. But that would have created a strange dynamic, I think. Fisher wouldn't have been getting many minutes. Sessions would have been looking over his shoulder. It was better to make a clean break. Trading Fisher was the right decision.
And look, Fisher obviously landed on his feet. The Rockets bought out his contract and Fisher signed with Oklahoma City, a team that really needed a backup point guard and a guy with playoff experience. Most of their best players are 22 or 23 years old. They're a young team, extremely talented, and they have a great coach in Scott Brooks. What they don't have is a ton of playoff experience. Kendrick Perkins gave them some of that last year. Fisher gives them a lot more.
Derek can really help the Thunder as long as he can also still play a little bit. The intangibles are great, but you also have to be able to help on the court. So far, he's missed 17 of 22 shots with Oklahoma City. He'll have to be better than that, but they don't need him to play a big role. Just basically what he did in L.A.: a spot-up shooter who can spread the court.
The Thunder have almost everything else. Kevin Durant keeps getting better and better. Statistically, he's the best closer in the game. Russell Westbrook is an outstanding scorer who is also a tough, gritty defender. Serge Ibaka is the best shot-blocker in the league. James Harden is the best sixth man. This is a really, really good basketball team. They're the best team in the West right now.
Down the road, I wouldn't be surprised if the Thunder and Lakers meet in the West finals. That would be a great matchup. Getting Sessions helped narrow the gap between the teams. Point guard was a huge advantage for the Thunder; now it's less so. I think Sessions was the biggest trade-time acquisition in the NBA. It's the move that will pay the biggest dividends if everyone stays healthy.
But the Thunder also helped themselves by getting Fisher. If the Thunder and Lakers are in a tight game Thursday or in the playoffs, wouldn't it be fun to see Fisher take the last shot?