It is impossible to predict how well Derek Fisher will handle playing point guard for the Warriors, primarily because it has been years since he has done anything vaguely point guardish. While nominally manning the position for the last eight seasons with the Lakers, Fisher rarely handled the ball, created for teammates or broke down a defense. His primary role: spot up for catch-and-shoot threes. "It was the nature of the triangle offense," he says. "Nobody other than Kobe [Bryant] really handled the ball much."
So perhaps it wasn't so wise to hand floor leadership and a six-year, $37 million free-agent contract to a 30year-old who has averaged 3.0 assists per game in his career and more closely resembles Steve Kerr than Steve Nash. But new vice president Chris Mullin is clearly trying to build a team with good character, and he wanted a savvy veteran who could help rear rising stars Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy and Jason Richardson. Seen in this light, the signing makes sense: Fisher was often the voice of reason on an increasingly unreasonable Lakers team. "I've never been the most talented or most explosive player," he says, "but people have always looked to me. In college [at Arkansas--Little Rock], I became a leader two games into my freshman year."
So Fisher's duties will be twofold on the Warriors: Run the offense and teach a young team how to win. On the first count, he spent the summer working on off-the-dribble moves to "shake the rust off," he says. On the second, he'll let new coach Mike Montgomery set the tone and then, when the time is right, bring out the ultimate motivational tool: his three rings. "Guys lose sight of what we're playing for, why we put our bodies through this for nine months," he says. "I'll remind them."--C.B.
ENEMY LINES an opposing team's scout sizes up the Warriors
By hiring Mike Montgomery out of Stanford, G.M. Chris Mullin keeps expectations low. They don't have to be a playoff team; they're just looking to put down a foundation. But it's going to be hard to show progress.... If I had to pick one guy to build around, it would be Mike Dunleavy, in spite of his weak defense. He's very skilled, but he didn't react well to Eric Musselman's hard coaching--it put him in a funk.... Jason Richardson was the best rebounding guard in the NBA last year, but what is there to fear about his offense? His shooting is inconsistent, and as a two-footed jumper it's hard for him to drive the middle in fast-break situations. He has to stop and gather himself, which gives the defense extra time to react.... Still, Richardson is a much better option in the half-court than Mickael Pietrus. Unless his offense improves, you can only use Pietrus as a stopper off the bench; he has the long arms, anticipation and energy to shut people down.... I see Adonal Foyle as a terrific backup. He won't score much, but he's a high-effort rebounder at both ends and a shot blocker. Speedy Claxton is also better as a reserve--a decent all-around player who doesn't dominate in any area.... I'm looking forward to seeing what Troy Murphy can do after he missed almost all of last season with foot and ankle injuries. He was a tough kid who could not only mix it up with his back to the basket but also score with the jumper. And it's going to be interesting to see how Derek Fisher does without having Shaq around to draw the double teams that leave him open at the three-point line. Don't be surprised if his shooting drops off this year.
Jason Richardson's scoring average of 18.7 points was the lowest to lead the Warriors in a full season since Purvis Short's 17.0 in 1979--80.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2003--04 statistics
Record: 37--45 (T-11th in West)
Points scored: 93.3 (13th in NBA)
Points allowed: 94.0 (14th)
Coach: Mike Montgomery
(first season with the Warriors)
DEREK FISHER [NEW ACQUISITION]
MIKE DUNLEAVY JR.
NEW ACQUISITION *PVR Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 86)