One more year, one more critical offseason for the LA Lakers.
The Lakers may have repeated as NBA Champions, but they’ve also repeated their postseason quandaries.
Last year, Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza became free agents after playing key roles in the Lakers’ victory over Orlando.
Odom’s ability to score and rebound were vital to the Lakers, as was Arizonas’s shooting ability and timely defensive plays. It seemed imperative to resign both or at least one of them if the LA wanted a chance to repeat.
Overshadowing it all were questions about Coach Phil Jackson. Health issues and the landmark tenth Championship ring seemed likely reasons why the Zen Master would retire.
The result is, of course, well documented. The Lakers kept Odom, acquired now hero Ron Artest, and Jackson stayed on another year.
Now LA is in a similar spot—celebrating as champions but facing serious questions about their future.
This time around it’s long time Laker Derek Fisher who is on the free agent market, while questions about Phil Jackson’s retirement or even leaving to coach another team still loom large.
In an interview with late night host Jimmy Kimmel, Fisher stated his desire to remain with the franchise and the Lakers would be wise to resign him quickly.
Fisher isn’t young, and he can’t give you a great 45 minutes every game during the regular season.
But the regular season, especially in the NBA, is secondary. Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar, and even Sasha Vuljacic have shown they have enough talent to help the Lakers get through the first 82 games.
Where you need Fisher is the last six or, this year, seven.
“It’s really this simple, we would not have won either one of these Championships had it not been for him,” Bryant said of Fisher.
And he’s right.
Last year the Lakers were lifted past the Magic in two games on Derek Fisher threes. This year Fisher took over Game Three. Fisher played at an all time great level, but it was his rebound and drive to the basket to widen the Lakers lead late in the fourth quarter surrounded by Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Glen Davis that clinched the game.
Fisher has always played tougher and younger when the game is on the line, and his ability to take and make the big shots is something LA relies on heavily.
But there are other things Fisher offers the Lakers. Kobe Bryant is widely regarded as one of the best, if not the best, player in the game. Bryant won’t listen to Sasha Vuljacic if he tells Bryant to pass the ball.
He will listen to Fisher. Bryant has admitted that it means more when Fisher criticizes the way he’s playing, and that he owes it to Fisher to listen.
Fisher’s ability to corral Bryant when he’s not having one of his better games will be crucial to the team moving forward, especially in the event that Phil Jackson does decide to leave, be it to retire or coach elsewhere.
All season, Jackson has stated that if the Lakers did repeat, he’d be more likely to remain with the team.
Despite this, it still seems highly possible that Jackson may have coached his last game in LA.
There are several glaring issues regarding Jackson’s return. Health problems make the rigors of the regular season difficult on the 64 year old, and then there is the matter of pay. Currently, Jackson is the highest paid coach in the NBA. However Lakers owner Jerry Buss made it clear that he would want Jackson to take a pay cut next season.
Outside of LA, Jackson would have no shortage of suitors. As teams do whatever they can to lure big time free agents such as Dwayne Wade and LeBron James, landing a proven coach like Jackson would be a huge victory.
In the event that Jackson does leave, the franchise will have some huge shoes to fill. Jackson has been with the team since 1999, and they have relied on his hand to guide them to five Championships.
It won’t be easy to find a replacement who can match what he has done.
This is why resigning Fisher is so important. He will provide strong leadership and consistency for the team, along with being able to keep Kobe Bryant in check if need be.
Laker Land should still be celebrating their most recent Championship, their first against Boston in the modern era and their first ever Game Seven victory over the hated rivals.
The season is over, but for the Lakers organization, the most important plays lay ahead.