Kiki's Keys to the Game: OKC Thunder
A few weeks ago the Lakers cast aside their starting point
guard and co-captain, a fan favorite and locker-room leader, Kobe Bryant's best
friend on the team and a guy whose clutch shots helped secure five
championships for the franchise.
It was a tough, emotional decision, but it had to be done.
Now, when Derek Fisher returns to LA with his new team, the Oklahoma City
Thunder, for Thursday's game at Staples Center, he may be extra motivated to
beat his former team. After all, it surely hurts to feel like you're no longer
But the Lakers did what they needed to do.
To compete for a championship this season, the Lakers needed a younger, more
athletic point guard who could help take pressure off LA's Big Three of Bryant,
Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol on both ends of the court. They acquired one in a
trade with the Cavaliers just before the deadline, and 25-year-old Ramon
Sessions has been just what the doctor ordered.
Sessions is averaging 13.3 points and 6.3 assists in seven games with the
Lakers, the last three as a starter. He's shooting 52.8 percent from the field.
Compare that to Fisher, who averaged 5.9 points and 3.3 assists in 43 games for
LA this season while shooting 38.4 percent.
But it's not just numbers. Sessions adds a totally different dimension to the
Lakers. He's a fast point guard who can push the ball in transition, get off
his own shot in a halfcourt offense and really put defensive pressure on
opposing point guards. The Lakers haven't had a point guard like that since
maybe Norm Nixon.
There are ancillary things that stream from that. Because of what Sessions can
do, it's easier for everyone else to play their game. Gasol and Bynum get
easier shots because Sessions can penetrate, draw defenses and get them the
ball. Matt Barnes is a big beneficiary because he runs the court and moves well
without the ball, so Sessions can find him in transition and in open spaces.
Then there's Kobe. Let's face it, opponents haven't really had to guard Lakers
point guards recently, so Kobe's had to basically work against 1½ defenders all
the time. There's been pressure on him to initiate the offense, create all the
shots and be the only real perimeter threat. It's very taxing to do those
things every game.
With Sessions, Kobe can still lead the league in scoring, but he can be more
efficient and take easier shots. There doesn’t need to be as many isolations.
He can play off the ball and come off screens or spot up. I know Kobe really
liked and respected Fisher. Fisher was someone Kobe could talk to and who made
him calmer and more relaxed. But I think Kobe will really like playing with
Sessions. They can make each other better.
That's the other side of it. Sessions makes the game easier for his teammates,
but these are also the best teammates he's ever played with. They'll make the
game come easier to him. He'll have more driving lanes and better outlets when
he penetrates. They don't need him to be great. They just need him to play a
Of course, that's what Fisher did so well for so many years with the Lakers. He
never tried to do too much, but he was somebody who could hit big shots and be
a leader. I think the Lakers will miss that. He's somebody who everyone
respected and he unified the locker room.
If they wanted, the Lakers could have kept Fisher even after trading for
Sessions. But that would have created a strange dynamic, I think. Fisher
wouldn't have been getting many minutes. Sessions would have been looking over
his shoulder. It was better to make a clean break. Trading Fisher was the right
And look, Fisher obviously landed on his feet. The Rockets bought out his
contract and Fisher signed with Oklahoma City, a team that really needed a
backup point guard and a guy with playoff experience. Most of their best
players are 22 or 23 years old. The Thunder are a young team, extremely
talented, and they have a great coach in Scott Brooks. What they don't have is
a ton of playoff experience. Kendrick Perkins gave them some of that last year.
Fisher gives them a lot more.
Derek can really help the Thunder as long as he can also still play a little
bit. The intangibles are great, but you also have to be able to help on the
court. So far, he's missed 17 of 22 shots with Oklahoma City. He'll have to be
better than that, but they don't need him to play a big role. Just basically
what he did in LA: a spot-up shooter who can spread the court.
The Thunder have almost everything else. Kevin Durant keeps getting better and
better. Statistically, he's the best closer in the game. Russell Westbrook is
an outstanding scorer who is also a tough, gritty defender. Serge Ibaka is the
best shot-blocker in the league. James Harden is the best sixth man. This is a
really, really good basketball team. It’s the best team in the West right now.
Down the road, I wouldn't be surprised if the Thunder and Lakers meet in the
West finals. That would be a great matchup. Getting Sessions helped narrow the
gap between the teams. Point guard was a huge advantage for the Thunder; now
it's less so. I think Sessions was the biggest trade-time acquisition in the
NBA. It's the move that will pay the biggest dividends if everyone stays
But the Thunder also helped themselves by getting Fisher. If the Thunder and
Lakers are in a tight game Thursday or in the playoffs, wouldn't it be fun to
see Fisher take the last shot?