Kobe Bryant has learned to trust his teammates, but how will he handle L.A.'s volatile new addition?
John W. McDonough/SI
0 Games missed by the backcourt of Derek Fisher, 35, and Kobe Bryant, 31, during the regular season. The oldest starting-guard tandem in the NBA last year was also the only one to start all 82 of its team's games.
Record: Record: 65-17 (first in Pacific) Points scored: 106.9 (third in NBA) Points allowed: 99.3 (13th in NBA)
This article appears in the October 26, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated
He is acclaimed as the heir to Robert Horry, and rightly so: In big games Derek Fisher delivers when it matters most. His two crunch-time threes to seal Game 4 against the Magic in June's Finals were the most memorable plays of his fourth championship with the Lakers. "From the day we got him, he considered himself a guy who had to outwork everybody else to make it in this league," says G.M. Mitch Kupchak, who was Jerry West's assistant when L.A. drafted Fisher 24th in 1996 (11 picks behind Kobe Bryant). "He has confidence in his ability now, but what he had to do [as a rookie] 13 years ago he knows he still has to do -- outwork players, outthink them. His approach to the game and his career has not changed one bit."
Fisher still makes the hardest shots look easy, thanks to an off-season conditioning program that enables him to keep up with much younger point guards. Guided by Lance Armstrong's training staff, Fisher has transitioned from a regimen heavy on lifting weights to one of maintaining flexibility through mobility and core drills. "We've become accustomed in sports to believe that once you're at a certain age, you don't have it anymore," says the 6' 1" Fisher. "I don't necessarily believe that."
Fisher hasn't missed a regular-season game in four years, and last season he averaged 29.8 minutes and 9.9 points while drawing defensive attention on the perimeter that helped space the floor for Bryant, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. As reassuring as it has been to have Fisher's shotmaking down the stretch, the Lakers will rely even more on their oldest player's behind-the-scenes leadership in incorporating high-maintenance newcomer Ron Artest. "Guys need to see that you can do what you're asking them to do," says Fisher. "It's about working hard and letting teammates see my approach to the game. Then the talks about basketball come naturally." Sounds like a winning formula.
-- Ian Thomsen
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