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.

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE with 2008--09 statistics


PG DEREK FISHER PPG: 9.9 APG: 3.2 SPG: 1.16 FG%: 42.4 3FG%: 39.7
SG KOBE BRYANT PPG: 26.8 RPG: 5.2 APG: 4.9 SPG: 1.46 FG%: 46.7
SF RON ARTEST PPG: 17.1 RPG: 5.2 APG: 3.3 SPG: 1.52 FG%: 40.1
PF PAU GASOL PPG: 18.9 RPG: 9.6 APG: 3.5 BPG: 1.00 FG%: 56.7
C ANDREW BYNUM PPG: 14.3 RPG: 8.0 APG: 1.4 BPG: 1.80 FG%: 56.0

KEY BENCH PLAYERS: F Lamar Odom, 8.2 RPG; G Jordan Farmar, 6.4 PPG; G Sasha Vujacic, 5.8 PPG; F Luke Walton, 2.8 RPG • New acquisition

COACH: Phil Jackson (fifth season with Lakers) • 2008--09 RECORD: 65--17 (first in Pacific)

POINTS SCORED: 106.9 (third in NBA) • POINTS ALLOWED: 99.3 (13th in NBA)



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.


I didn't like the move to get Ron Artest. I thought they'd be much better off re-signing Trevor Ariza. He is a fit-in guy, whereas Artest demands that everybody else has to change to accept him and adapt to him.... In the triangle Artest could be a terrific release valve—they pass to him and all of a sudden he's one-on-one on the weakside at the elbow against a defender who's a second late getting over to him. But will he be disciplined enough to run it?... Kobe Bryant is going to have to manage Artest, and I think Kobe might relish that, especially if Artest is responding. But I can also envision a day when Artest isn't responding and Kobe says, I'm done with him.... If I had to start a team for the long haul I'd take LeBron James, but if I had to win today, I'd take Kobe because Kobe has proven it. From everything you hear and read, he accepts his role and trusts his teammates more, and of course, that was the same progression that Michael Jordan went through.... Andrew Bynum needs to play a full season and regain the confidence he lost after having knee surgeries the last two years. He looked like a lost pup in the playoffs, and if he has another tough, floundering year, it will mess with him mentally.

PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGHKOBE BRYANT He has learned to trust his teammates, but how will he handle L.A.'s volatile new addition? PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGHDEREK FISHER The elder statesman is still fit to be king in the clutch. PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGH

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