The masquerade is officially over.
There are many things one could have learned from the Lakers debacle against the Cavaliers earlier today, but one fact was made abundantly clear: The Lakers will not win another title with Derek Fisher in the starting lineup.
As unpopular as criticizing Fisher may be, the fact of the matter is that he’s become a liability that the Lakers can no longer afford. The evidence began surfacing during the Lakers’ championship run last year when Derek Fisher’s lackluster defense against the Rockets' speedy point guard Aaron Brooks nearly cost the Lakers the series.
We saw the same thing yesterday. Despite Fisher’s inadequate speed, his refusal to sag off of Mo Williams led to Williams’ penetrating into the paint, where he would either score or set a teammate up for a score virtually every time.
Last year, Fisher was able to redeem himself in the Finals with a clutch three-point shot in the closing seconds of game four’s fourth quarter, capping off a late Laker rally and sending the game into overtime, which ultimately boosted the Lakers to an insurmountable 3-1 series lead.
The problem is that this year doesn’t offer such a storybook ending.
The fact that Fisher is the chink in the Lakers' lineup is a fact that has been well documented and taken advantage of by other teams around the league.
Of the five Laker losses this season, three of them have come with the other teams’ point guards averaging over 27 points per game. The other losses came against Chauncey Billups and Jason Kidd, who have both been reduced to game-managing roles with their respective teams.
One has to wonder what, if anything, Phil Jackson intends to do about all of this. Jackson is well known for tinkering with his lineups, especially over the last two seasons, but he has yet to make an adjustment to the biggest weakness on his team.
What’s perhaps most maddening is that this roster offers many solutions. Starting either Jordan Farmar or Shannon Brown would offer the Lakers a chance at developing a point guard of the future and putting an athletic body on the other team’s starting point guard. Alternatively, a backcourt with Kobe and Ron augmented by a frontcourt of Odom, Gasol, and Bynum would address the deficiencies Fisher represents in the Laker defense as well.
Doing nothing is no longer an option. The other elite teams in the league—Boston, Orlando, and Cleveland—all boast point guards capable of derailing the Lakers single-handedly when faced with the kind of inadequate defense Fisher plays.
The Lakers are much more defensively-oriented now than they were last season and aren’t capable of outscoring their problems anymore.
If the Lakers championship status is to be maintained, then it's time to face the facts. Fisher has done a great many things for the Lakers. He has been huge in the clutch and has earned the right to be known as a key player in Laker history. In short, Fisher has the heart of a champion, but the defense of a mannequin.
If Jackson refuses to reduce Fisher’s minutes, then Fisher simply needs to take one for the team. If not, Fisher’s fourth championship will be his last.