Derek Fisher played his first game as an Oklahoma City Thunder tonight. I didn't see it, of course, because I was busy watching the Lakers pile-drive the Mavs, but I gather Fish looked all right in his OKC debut. Five points in 19 minutes, one assist, one turnover... a standard night from the old man, and a stat line that will seem familiar to Laker fans. The response I'm seeing most from the Lakerati is along the lines of, "Derek Fisher in blue and orange just doesn't seem right." I understand that reaction, to a degree. I mean, it's not like Fish has never played for another team before. (Golden State? Utah?) But obviously, I get it. There's not a Laker fan anywhere who doesn't wish the best for Derek Fisher (except when he's facing the Lakers themselves) or think of him as our own.
But at the same time Fish was doing his thing for OKC, we got our first sustained look at what these Lakers can do with a real point guard. By that I mean, a point guard with classic point-guard skills: speed, change-of-direction, court vision, passing, shooting, the ability to control a game by controlling who has the ball and when. You know how Bill Simmons writes how much more fun it is to play basketball with a true point guard? Ramon Sessions is the kind of guy he's talking about. Sessions entered the game midway through the first quarter, and you could feel the character of the game change. The kid just operates at a different pace than Derek Fisher (or, for that matter, Steve Blake). His skills put the Dallas defense back on its heels and set the table for Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and anyone else up for hitting an open shot. I'm not ashamed to say it: I'm in love.
Back on January 16, Fish hit a game-winning three against these very same Mavs. It was an awesome moment. All of Fish's game-winners were awesome, and they grew only more so as he aged and his occasional heroics seemed less likely to repeat themselves. In those moments you could understand the Lakers' attachment to Fish. But I'm of the firm belief that great teams don't win close games - they avoid them. Those of us who longed for years to upgrade the point-guard position made the argument that some of Fisher's heroics wouldn't be needed if the Lakers had a productive PG who could help put teams away early. This evening in Dallas, that's exactly what happened. At the end of the game, where we might've once hoped the Lakers could find Fish behind the arc for another entry in his career highlight reel, we instead enjoyed the sight of Darius Morris dribbling out the clock before a nearly empty arena, the Mavs' faithful having long since abandoned the building in despair.
As smitten as I am by Mr. Sessions, I'm not too invested in the debate over whether he should be starting. Clearly he's better than Blake. There's no argument to be made otherwise. But starting is an honorific. What really matters is playing time and lineups, and for now I have no problem with Mike Brown experimenting a bit. If Brown decides that Sessions should spend most of his time with reserves on the floor, I'd understand the rationale - as C.A. pointed out on Twitter tonight, it's Murphy and Barnes, not Kobe and Pau, who really need the clean opportunities a good point guard can create - and I'd be OK with it so long as Sessions runs the show at least 35 minutes a night and at all crucial moments.
(Sessions, by the way, has never averaged more than 28 minutes a night, but is there any reason he can't go as long as Kobe, Drew and Pau? He's young and healthy, but would he wear down? I say gun it.)
Could the Lakers have traded for Sessions and held onto Fish? I'm skeptical it could've worked. How could Sessions have developed the confidence needed to lead a veteran offense with Fish looking over his shoulder? It's not like you could ever bench Fish outright, so how many ceremonial minutes would he need? What if they came at the expense of Sessions finding a rhythm? Who plays in crunch time? Do you really sit your best point guard with a postseason game on the line? Do you really sit Derek Fisher? Mike Brown has enough on his hands right now. The last thing he needed on his plate was a point guard controversy. This is some next-level locker room shit. Phil Jackson could've handled it, maybe, but Brown doesn't have the authority.
Other disconnected notions from tonight's conquest.
- Strange evening for Andrew Bynum. For much of the night he had real trouble unlocking the Mavs' double-teams, but would you believe he had zero turnovers? The kid stayed calm, didn't force things and incidentally played a nice stretch of defense on Dirk Nowitzki in the second quarter.
- Rarely will you see a more advanced clinic in shooting form than what Kobe and Pau had going.
- Is Matt Barnes sorting himself out? I will never, ever trust his three-point shooting, but if he can give the Lakers a fifth dependable regular, that would be fantastic.
- Troy Murphy... mehhh. I'd live without his shooting in return for Jordan Hill's speed and bounce.
- Hey, didn't that guy used to be Lamar Odom?
- It feels like the Lakers' playoff run is setting up to be epic. Imagine a first-round hallway series with the Clippers, one last siege of San Antonio in the second, then Fish and the Thunder in the conference finals. I'd seriously fear for my pants.
Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.