Now that everybody knows how they feel about each other, and for now seem to have arrived at the media as the conveniently culpable party in Shaq vs. Kobe II, there was only one thing for the Lakers to do: Send out Derek Fisher.
As the week’s storm took its predictable course, from parking-lot gibe to top-of-the-page, 60-point nasty, and as Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant were driving away from El Segundo on Monday afternoon, Fisher sat on a stationary bike surrounded by reporters.
On countless days when Laker times were most tense, when championships were slipping away and superstars were thrashing each other, and when reporters had to have answers, the training room door would open and Fisher would walk through it.
At the same time, the facility’s back door would open, and the other Lakers would run through it. Not Rick Fox, who is as stand-up as Fisher, but nearly everyone else.
“I want people to understand,” Fisher said Thursday, “that we’re out here trying to do the right things.”
He added, “There’s a responsibility with being responsible. I relish that.... I’ve just always been that way.”
Fisher is as proud as any pro athlete. He is as possessive of his playing time. He is as mindful of his place in the game. But, even as the Lakers publicly shopped for his replacement in July, even as that replacement -- Gary Payton -- agreed to come and then, indeed, took his starting job, Fisher simply showed up and had the best training camp of any of them.
“I’m just keeping my foot to the grind, really,” he said, “controlling what I can control.”
It might surprise you to know that Fisher can opt out of his Laker contract this summer, just as Bryant, Payton and Karl Malone can. Given his minutes will recede and his role will lighten, you also know Fisher won’t go rushing off, given his perspective.
Fisher and General Manager Mitch Kupchak spoke briefly over the summer and agreed they’d wait until the end of the season to talk about Fisher’s contract.
“It’s a part of the business,” Fisher said in training camp. “I’m in one of those positions where maybe I’m an expendable guy. I’m not Shaq or Kobe, one of those un-expendable positions. So I’ll just keep plugging along.”
On his right wrist, Fisher wears a purple bracelet that reads, “TEAM.” The one on his left wrist is yellow. The morning after he played a game-high 37 minutes against the Dallas Mavericks, while most of the regulars rested, he went four-on-four, mostly because Bryant had to practice. Then he came out and told everybody how it went, just in case no one else did.
“Part of the responsibility,” Fisher said. “It’s all part of it.”
Bryant said Thursday he had hopes of playing Saturday night in Phoenix, but still wasn’t sure of it.
He told Phil Jackson he experienced some fatigue in his right leg and knee during Thursday’s practice, when he ran with a yellow team that included O’Neal, Malone, Payton and Devean George.
“It’s going to be up to him,” Jackson said, “as far as how confident he’s going to be on that knee.”
The Lakers have committed up to $200,000 for the American Red Cross relief fund that assists victims of the Southern California fires. The team will donate the proceeds from in-arena auctions at November’s home games and match that up to $100,000.