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BILL PLASCHKE

Lakers miss the point in trading Derek Fisher

Fisher has lost more than a step on the court, but he was one of the Lakers' leaders in the clubhouse and a buffer between Kobe Bryant and the rest of the team.

March 15, 2012|Bill Plaschke
  • The Lakers traded veteran point guard Derek Fisher to the Houston Rockets on Thursday.
The Lakers traded veteran point guard Derek Fisher to the Houston Rockets… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

Responding to the pleas for a blockbuster trade, the Lakers answered their critics Thursday with a whopper.

They traded their soul.

The Lakers traded Derek Fisher, and if you are having trouble swallowing those five words, say them in point-four seconds and you'll really choke on it.

The Lakers traded Derek Fisher, and it feels so wrong, it feels so cheap, and I don't care if he was aging, and slowing, and sliding toward the end of the bench.

He was still Derek Fisher. He was still the guy who could turn final seconds into lasting memories. He was still the coolest guy on the floor and the smartest guy in the room.

He wasn't just the Lakers point guard, he was their conscience, the only guy who ever stole a sideline huddle from Phil Jackson, the only player who others respected enough to treat like a coach.

He wasn't just Kobe Bryant's keeper, he was his buffer, constantly stepping between the Manic Mamba and misunderstandings with the rest of the team, protecting new guys from Bryant's wrath, protecting Bryant from himself.

He was still Derek Fisher, still capable of making plays like the one in late December against the Denver Nuggets. He missed a potential go-ahead three-point shot in the final two minutes and then raced across the floor and dove between two Nuggets and came up with the loose ball.

The Lakers eventually won that game, and afterward I thanked him for allowing us to experience, however briefly, what it was like to watch an old-school Laker.

"We have to make sure nobody forgets, right?" he said with a grin.

With five championship rings, he equaled Bryant and Magic Johnson. With 13 Lakers seasons, he played here one year longer than James Worthy and only one year shorter than Jerry West.

More than anyone, even Bryant, in this current organization, Fisher was the calm connection between the uncertain Lakers present and the championship Lakers past. Fisher ran the locker room. Fisher ran the bench. Fisher called the team meetings. Fisher ended the team meetings. Even when his sprint had slowed to a jog, Fisher was the quiet caretaker of the Lakers culture.

The Lakers traded Derek Fisher, and for what?

Officially, he was traded to the Houston Rockets for Jordan Hill, an awkward big man who, despite being a lottery pick three years ago, has been unable to stay on the floor more than 15 minutes a game this season.

Unofficially, Fisher was traded because the Lakers no longer wanted to worry about his future salary — $3.4 million guaranteed next season – or his future attitude.

The money dump is obvious. It's the same thing that Jim Buss did to Lamar Odom. For the first time ever, the Lakers are clearly being guided by economics, one of the greatest franchises in sports suddenly reduced to tripping over relative pennies.

It's the attitude dump that is strange. It turns out, many feared that with the acquisition Thursday of decent Cleveland point guard Ramon Sessions, Fisher would balk at his new place at the end of the bench. His new job would be as a third-stringer behind Sessions and Steve Blake.

There were worries that Fisher would use his command presence to cause quiet chaos. Some felt he could make things uncomfortable for everyone, particularly Coach Mike Brown, by using the same sort of political savvy that helped him serve as the union boss during the recent lockout.

Certainly, any time a local legend is benched, those are legitimate worries. But at this advanced stage of his career, Fisher was more accepting of his eventual fate. He repeatedly told me that he knew his diminished minutes were coming, and that he would accept the demotion if it would help the team.

"Where I'm at in my life, it's about more than minutes for me," he once said. "It's about still having an impact on this team."

At 37, Fisher just wanted to be part of the Lakers as long as they would have him, and then retire in the city where he began as a rookie in the same summer of 1996 that also featured the arrival of Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.

He wouldn't have caused trouble, unless it was for the opposing team in the final seconds, like with the three-pointer he sank to beat the Dallas Mavericks two months ago.

He wouldn't have brought dramatics, unless it was the playoffs and he was hitting that point-four shot against San Antonio or pulling off a coast-to-coast drive against Boston.

He could have remained here for the rest of the season just being Derek Fisher, and then the Lakers could have worked out some sort of buyout and allowed him to retire with dignity, retire as a Laker.

Maybe Fisher will simply retire now, sadly in some Westside hotel ballroom, sadly on his own. Or maybe he'll embrace this trade as a chance to mentor young and rising players as he once did here.

Houston obviously thinks he is still worth something. It's breathtaking to realize that the Lakers don't.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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