Commentary

Fisher's value can't be measured

Updated: February 24, 2010, 12:21 PM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

They have made him no commitment, and he has paid it no mind.

If the Lakers choose to go in a different direction at point guard next season -- away from Derek Fisher and into the hands of someone younger or quicker or any of the things he constantly hears he is not anymore -- he will be disappointed, but he will understand.

Here's an informed guess that they won't, that Fisher will be back in purple and gold next season in some role, but it's the nature of the NBA, of this fast-twitch town, and of life in general to look for something newer or younger of faster.

To forget past triumphs and draw conclusions from last night's box score.

On a night like Thursday, when Fisher went an ugly 1-for-9 from the field and missed what could have been a game-winning buzzer-beater in the Lakers' 87-86 loss to the Celtics, Fisher knew exactly what kind of questions were coming his way after the game but still coolly and calmly stood in front of his locker and answered all of them.

"That's part of the business," he said. "In particular, when you've been around as long as I have, you learn that people always like to talk about what's next.

"It is what it is, and I accept it for what it is. I've just always believed in allowing my work over time and over my career to speak for itself, and I'll continue to do so."

In other words, he gets it, and he pays it no mind.

Because Fisher can still remember the sound of an entire city cheering for him at the Lakers' championship parade in June, the echo of his two game-changing 3-pointers in Game 4 of last year's NBA Finals in Orlando and the quiet self-satisfaction he felt in the locker room afterward when his teammates shook their heads and happily muttered "He did it again."

It's those moments that made you believe, despite his tough shooting night, that Fisher would somehow make that off-balance, twisting jumper to beat the Celtics on Thursday.

He did too.

"If you're confident in yourself and you know your teammates are confident in you, you take the shot and live with the consequences," he said.

"That wasn't the type of shot that I would like to get, but if there's anybody else on the team that is willing to and can take whatever comes with it if you don't make it, it's me."

[+] EnlargeDerek Fisher
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesDerek Fisher says he appreciates the confidence Lakers coach Phil Jackson has continued to show in him as a valued veteran.

That confidence and poise is why Fisher's role on this season's team is unquestioned. His minutes are slightly down this year (27.1 compared to 29.8 last season); so too are his shooting percentage (38.7) and scoring average (7.3).

But his value to the team has never been measured purely in statistics. And really, on a team loaded with superstars, the Lakers don't need Fisher to score much.

Which is why for the second season in a row the Lakers felt confident enough in Fisher to stand pat at the trading deadline. By not biting on the lure of Chicago's Kirk Hinrich or Indiana's Earl Watson, the Lakers essentially choose to ride with Fisher into May and June and hope he can deliver another round of playoff magic.

Not because of some sentimental attachment but because they know the man and remember everything he has done since being drafted in 1996.

They also ensured that over the next four or five months, Fisher will be asked about his age, his defense and whether he has lost a step about 500 more times.

"I'm sure he hears all of that. I don't think it does anything to him except make him want to go out there and prove people wrong," said his young understudy Shannon Brown.

The thing is, haven't we had this conversation before?

Like around this time last year, when the Lakers also stood pat at the deadline and decided to roll with Fisher again?

And then revisited it after he made clutch shots in the playoffs that etched his name into Lakers lore once again?

In NBA years, Fisher (35) might be on the old side -- though it should be noted that he's younger than Phoenix guard Steve Nash (36) -- but this discussion is even older.

You have to wonder how many more clutch shots and games Fisher has to deliver in the playoffs, where Lakers seasons are ultimately judged successes or failures, for the discussion to stop.

Before Thursday's game I asked coach Phil Jackson why the team has decided to trust in Fisher once again, and he wasn't in the best of moods to expound upon that, saying only, "We're perfectly happy with the combination of guards we have right now" and that playoff experience is valuable.

But last year, after Fisher's heroics in Game 4, the coach said all that ever needs to be said on the subject.

"Well, it's just character," Jackson said after the humid night in Orlando that tipped the seven-game series in the Lakers' favor. "We always said that character has got to be in a player if they're going to be great players. You can't just draft it.

"It's not just about talent; it's about character, and he's a person of high character. He brings that to play, not only in just his gamesmanship but also his intestinal fortitude."

Afterward, Fisher found himself thanking Jackson for sticking with him and continuing to believe in him, despite a shooting slump in the playoffs that once again had fans calling for him to step aside.

"I think some of the credit belongs to Phil," Fisher said that night. "Just the way that he's willing to stick with certain people he believes can get the job done."

Though he thanked Jackson for having faith in him, Fisher shared the same belief all along.

If he doubted himself, it never showed. Instead, he did what he always does: work harder.

"He's the consummate pro," Brown said. "He comes in, he does what he has to do, handles his business and he's focused. He gets extra shots up when he needs to; he watches film. He's a pro's pro."

He also has been there, in the pressurized muck and mud of late-round playoff series, more than any of them. Fisher's 176 playoff games are second among active players, behind only Shaquille O'Neal (203).

At the top of the overall list is a man Fisher shares a legacy with in Lakers history: Robert Horry (244).

"Experience is the best teacher of them all," Lamar Odom said. "[Fisher] has been in the position before to make a big shot; he knows what it takes to make a big shot.

"We all saw that last year in the Finals."

Yes, we did.

But how quickly some of us forget.

Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

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