Derek Fisher Leaving Imprint on Young Thunder
On March 15, point guard Derek Fisher found himself in the unenviable position of having to abruptly pack his bags and leave the Los Angeles Lakers, a team he’s played for in 13 of his now 16 NBA seasons. In acquiring point guard Ramon Sessions at the trade deadline, Fisher was deemed expendable by the Lakers’ brass and subsequently traded to the Houston Rockets in a deal that netted the Lakers center Jordan Hill.
Houston would eventually buy out the five-time NBA Champion before he even set foot on the court in a Rockets uniform and Fisher was faced with the decision of what team he would like to finish out the season with.
After some deliberation, Fisher came to an agreement with the up and coming Oklahoma City Thunder – a team fresh off its first trip to the Western Conference Finals. In talking with Fisher, it was clear he relished the opportunity to join the Thunder just as much as the team was thrilled to acquire his services.
“This is a group of guys that just enjoys the game, enjoys playing with each other and enjoys coming to work everyday and just seeing each other and interacting,” Fisher explained. “They’re like brothers and so it’s a special group and I’m glad I was able to join at such a late date and be apart of something that’s potentially very special.”
After spending a little over a month and a half with his new team, Fisher charges that, while this is a young basketball team, his teammates’ attitude and approach suggests otherwise.
“We have a young basketball team, from an age standpoint,” Fisher said. “But these guys are as humble and hungry and passionate about being successful as any group I’ve been with on a collective basis. They all just want to succeed and they want the next guy to succeed. It’s a special group. They really enjoy themselves but they also enjoy the job and playing with each other and for each other. I think that’s a special thing to have.”
Featuring a trio of young talents in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden that top out at just 23 years of age; OKC bringing in a proven winner with the leadership pedigree of the 37-year old Fisher seemed like a no-brainer.
“The guy is just a winner on and off the floor and he’s high character and he has toughness and everything you want from a player,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of Fisher. “As a coach, it’s what I love about him. He brings everything that you want your players to bring: professionalism, a consistent approach to work every day and a good teammate whether he’s on the floor or on the bench.
“He’s about the right things and he brings toughness, he brings leadership…”
Coach Brooks believes Fisher’s work ethic might be one of the most beneficial aspects to having him on the team.
“[Fisher] stays in the gym an hour after practice working on his shot, trying to figure out ways to improve,” Brooks said. “A lot of guys don’t do that at a young age – let alone a guy that’s spent 15 or 16 years and [has] multiple championships. But he still has that passion, that enthusiasm for the game that, once you get rid of that, you have no shot of being a player in this league.”
Don’t just take the coach’s word for it. The three players that have propelled this Thunder squad to one of the best teams the NBA weren’t shy in heaping praise on Fisher.
“He’s been phenomenal for me,” Durant said. “It was just a blessing to get to be on the same team with him. Every chance he gets he’s always pulling me to the side, telling me what he sees, what I need to do better and also telling me what I’m doing well. So every chance I get, I just go over to him and ask him what I can do to improve on the next play or how I can be better the next quarter or next half. He’s been helping out.”
As someone who plays the same position, Fisher seems to have worked some magic with Westbrook – who struggled as the Thunder lost four of five to the Dallas Mavericks in last season’s Western Conference Finals. This postseason, Westbrook has been arguably the most dominant player on the floor with Oklahoma City taking a decisive 3-0 lead in the first round over Dallas.
“He’s great,” Westbrook said. “Fisher’s a vet and he knows what it takes to win and he knows how to win so he’s definitely been a big help.”
Coming off the bench along with Fisher, Harden believes the former Lakers’ starter at point guard means more to the Thunder than people realize.
“Everything,” Harden responded as to what Fisher has meant to the Thunder. “As far as big shots, leadership – he does it all. He can still play at his age. He’s done a great job of, when we get up by a certain amount of points, to just keep our composure and he’s done a great job in the huddles. He’s meant a lot to us.”
Fisher has backed up Harden’s assessment that he’s still capable of making an impact on the court. So far this series against the Mavs, Fisher is shooting 50 percent from the field (50 percent from behind the arc) and has scored in double digits in each of the last two contests.
This has played a part in the Thunder taking a 3-0 advantage with an opportunity to sweep the defending champs in Dallas Saturday night. Not surprisingly, Fisher has some words of wisdom for his teammates going into Game Four in regards to the history of 3-0 series leads.
“Don’t pay attention to that stat,” Fisher said of the 99-0 record teams that jump out to a 3-0 series lead have in NBA history. “Just go out and play the game as it is. We don’t need to come out on the floor Saturday night with any extra baggage or carrying any extra burden or pressure… Stay in the moment and hopefully we’ll have the opportunity to get the win Saturday night.”
It’s tough to argue against Fisher’s possible reasons of joining the Thunder. Oklahoma City is a young team primed to compete for a title and, as an added bonus, he may have a chance to stick it to his former team at some point this postseason.
According to Fisher, this team has all the tools to compete for an NBA Championship this season and he says a large part of that is the Thunder continuing to thrive from a psychological standpoint.
“This team definitely has what it takes from a physical standpoint, in terms of our pieces and our personnel,” Fisher said. “We’ll find out in terms of where we are mentally as a group in terms of how bad we want to maximize the potential that we have with this group.”
Time will only tell if this Thunder squad has the tools to advance to the Finals and possibly win an NBA Title this season. If you’re picking up what Oklahoma City is putting down, Fisher might be the difference for this team to put it all together advance further after falling short in the Western Conference Finals just a season ago.
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