Their star has ripped them, the trade winds have blown over them, the bulk of the Western Conference is muscling past them.
At this baking point of the basketball summer, the Lakers’ complicated and extensive needs have shriveled down to something simple.
They need to be able to look in the mirror.
They need something to remind them -- and us -- of who they really are.
The Lakers need to acquire, well, a Laker.
The Lakers need to sign Derek Fisher.
It shouldn’t take them longer than four-tenths of a second to figure out why.
When he ran off the court after making that game-winning shot in San Antonio in the spring of 2004, the Lakers’ heart disappeared with him.
When he understandably took big money to leave for Golden State, a big part of the Lakers’ soul went bankrupt.
On that same day three years ago when Kobe Bryant announced he was re-signing with the Lakers, Fisher announced he was leaving, and guess who has participated in more playoff victories since?
Fast-forward to Thursday, when Bryant offered an apology for ripping Andrew Bynum but again refused to flatly state that he wants to stay here.
It was a day the Lakers needed someone like Fisher more than ever.
Pushing his 33rd birthday, Fisher is indeed not the point guard that he was when he played here.
Statistically, he’s better.
Savvy, he has more.
In an emotional news conference this week, Fisher became a free agent when he walked away from a guaranteed $21-million contract from the Utah Jazz because he said he wants to live in a city with medical facilities best-suited to treating his infant daughter Tatum’s eye cancer.
“Life for me outweighs the game of basketball,” he told reporters.
Once again, Fisher’s strength isn’t shooting or passing, but perspective.
He joined the Lakers at the same time as Kobe Bryant in 1996, both kid rookies, both in their first trips to Hollywood, but two vastly different personalities.
While Bryant soared, Fisher was stuck with his feet on the ground.
While Bryant became a pace-setter, Fisher was stuck being a peacemaker.
But while Bryant was sexy, Fisher became solid, and guess who ended up standing taller?
When Bryant crashed, Fisher was there to pick him up.
When Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal fought, Fisher was there to leap between them.
When the Lakers’ dream-team locker room seemed on the verge of implosion, Fisher’s quiet tones became the voice of reason.
By the time he made that game-winning shot with 0.4 of a second remaining in 2004, he was much more than simply a steady player, he was their sustaining conscience.
“The Lakers are like Derek’s family,” said Mark Bartelstein, Fisher’s agent. “His heart is with them. There is an attachment there.”
I spoke to Fisher in the spring of 2006, in his second season with Golden State, and the pining in his voice was clear.
He didn’t regret taking the Warriors’ crazy $37 million, but he badly missed the Lakers.
Now, he can return as their much-needed point guard, not as young as a free-agent candidate such as Denver’s Steve Blake, but certainly as steady.
Now, he can come back as that rare player who is unafraid of Bryant, yet respected by him, a paramount trait in this crazy Lakers culture.
Fisher supported Bryant during the Colorado rape case, and publicly backed him after every controversial game. Yet Fisher is also the one Laker who has never been afraid to openly tell Bryant to pass the dang ball.
If the Lakers regrettably aren’t going to trade Bryant, then they might as well bring in somebody who can keep him quiet for his final year here, and Fisher is that guy.
Can he win them a championship? No. But can he make them look and sound and feel like the Lakers again? Absolutely.
Fisher was traveling with his daughter Thursday and unavailable for comment. Mitch Kupchak, the Lakers’ general manager who has said he was intrigued by Fisher’s recent decision, declined to comment because of a league gag order on free agents
Bartelstein has said that Fisher is seeking the mid-level exception of five years and $30 million. Here’s guessing that because of his age, he won’t get that, and the Lakers need not pay it.
But why not offer him half that money? Why not offer him exactly what they offered him three years ago before he bolted to Golden State, three years at $16.5 million?
Derek Fisher is more worn down now. But, man, so are the Lakers.
He needs them. They need him. Lakers Nation needs them both.
Bill Plaschke can be reached at email@example.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.