EL SEGUNDO — Other than “phenomenal,” the word “competition” might be Luke Walton’s favorite phrase to utter with the Los Angeles Lakers so far this season. The surprising Lakers’ start has cooled a bit recently, but the team’s new head coach has spoken at length all year about how the open competition for minutes and roles has made them better.
Spectrum SportsNet is in quite literally the opposite situation. The regional sports network is the only one carrying Lakers games, and that lack of competition could have allowed them to rest on their laurels. Instead, they’ve done the exact opposite.
One flip through NBA League Pass is enough to know that not only does Spectrum SportsNet blow away their RSN competition in terms of production value, they’re on par with any national broadcast. Despite this, at the end of last year’s 17-win Lakers’ campaign, Spectrum Senior Coordinating Producer of Studio and Remote Programming AJ Ponsiglione had the same thought on his mind as the Lakers front office surely did: how do we get better?
The conclusion he came to was to up the network’s ability to not only cover, but break news.
“So we said ‘who's the best Lakers beat writer in the business?’” Ponsiglione said. “And we said Mike Bresnahan... So we went hard after him and we're fortunate to get him.”
For studio host Chris McGee, who cited 20 years of experience with Bresnahan for their easy pregame show chemistry, it was an exciting hire.
"Bres has been great. It's fun having Bres involved,” McGee said. “He's got a great history with the organization from doing what he does, and he's got great sources.”
McGee also thinks Bresnahan has had an easier adjustment period than a typical T.V. rookie, in part due to the experience he was getting with Spectrum even while on the beat.
“I think he had to make an adjustment for sure. It's not writing anymore, it's an opinion and you've got to say it in 30 seconds, not 600 words,” McGee said. “So he had to change in that way, so it's for sure an adjustment, but he had all summer to work on it and he's gotten better every single time."
Bresnahan’s lack of rookie mistakes haven’t completely saved him from a little hazing, however. On Wednesday’s pregame show, he forgot to greet Derek Fisher and Jaime Maggio when doing his video hit from Houston, which led to Spectrum analyst and Lakers legend James Worthy turning his back to Bresnahan’s screen on the air in a bit of goodhearted hazing for Spectrum’s prized addition.
Bresnahan wasn’t the only big offseason addition for Spectrum, either. Adding another key member to their team — another Lakers legend, at that — in Derek Fisher was a key free agency signing for Spectrum SportsNet.
It’s clear how much of an impact Fisher is making in the quality of their content listening to him interact with Worthy, McGee and the entire crew. Fisher was busy dropping gems throughout the day, still running point even if his new uniform is sharp tailored suits and eye-catching cuff links.
“It was a no-brainer for us. Derek is, we all agree, Laker royalty being a key member of five championship teams,” Ponsiglione said of bringing Fisher in as a studio analyst.
“When Derek's time with the Knicks ended, we figured this would be a transitional period for him, and through the Lakers they helped us get in touch with him. We reached out and wanted to try a few different things this year, and it just fell in to place that we brought him on board.”
For Fisher, it’s a chance to return home to a city that he brought glory to time and time again. 0.4, splashing a three in Jameer Nelson’s face, five titles and countless memories he provided fans of the purple and gold are still fresh.
"Just being back in LA has been great. The people here, the city, Lakers fans have always been amazingly great to me,” Fisher said.
“After playing and coaching, and being a part of the NBA for 20 years, it's been refreshing to have this role where I can be as engaged as I want to be, but also to be able to unplug and just be a person and enjoy being in LA,” Fisher told Silver Screen and Roll of how he’s enjoying his venture into broadcast television. “That's new for me and I'm enjoying that space as well.”
His teammates, like McGee, are more than happy to have his 20 years of experience at their disposal. Fisher isn’t just providing fans with insight, his team also respects and learns from what he brings to the table as an analyst.
“D-Fish is incredible, man. Just the knowledge and the class he brings. Every time he breaks something down, as much as I know basketball, I learn something. He's really patient with his answers too,” McGee said. “He listens to the question, and he gives a thoughtful answer. You can still see that coach in him. I mean he was always a coach on the floor, but he has that coach inside of him. It's pretty amazing."
That respect is mutual from Fisher.
“I’m trying to bring what I see and what I'm observing, but also respecting Chris' perspective and James' perspective and what they're seeing, and just trying to make sure that we're giving the fans a balance of Lakers basketball,” Fisher said.
Fisher wants to be one part of the whole that is the new Spectrum SportsNet team, understanding the importance of his role and how he fits into the bigger picture.
“I hope that the years that I was able to play and be a part of the things that are happening now helped, and coaching the game as well,” Fisher said. “Understanding it a little bit, even though it was a short coaching tenure, understanding some of the things and the decisions that coaches are having to make night in and night out about their team.
“I'm trying to offer those thoughts, and I guess wisdom, in a way that's supportive of what these guys are doing here. Everybody is great here, very knowledgeable, they love this city they love the team, so we're just having fun kind of lending all of what we bring to it and we’re looking forward to doing it some more.”
“[Fisher] really brings us great insight and a real coaching and player perspective,” Ponsiglione said, beaming with how well the new team has come together. “All of that has translated on TV. Everything we hoped to get out of him, we have.”
Things couldn’t have lined up cleaner for Spectrum SportsNet, and while it’d be easy for a group that’s gushing with Lakers love to see the world through purple-and-gold lenses, Fisher wants to make sure he remains as unbiased and informative as possible.
“Obviously this is a network that loves the Lakers and it's about wanting the Lakers to do well and the Lakers to win, but also being able to watch the games objectively and not just be a fan of a particular team,” Fisher said. “Really see the game as it's happening. Analyze what's going on, and not what you think should be going on.
“And that's been a big adjustment, I played for almost 18 years, so obviously I wanted my team to do well so I saw things a certain way. As a coach I saw things a certain way because I wanted my team to do well. Here, it's wanting the Lakers to do well but also being objective, and that's an adjustment for me.”
Fisher may feel like it’s been a big adjustment, but the talent around him sees him as a natural fit.
"I didn't know [if Fisher would be good right away]. I interviewed him back in the day, and I always thought he was polished. I knew how good he was, I mean he was always our go to guy, but he's so good on TV,” McGee said of how quickly Fisher’s taken to being an in-studio analyst. “He came right in and it was like he's done it for ten years."
Fisher may not have done the job for ten years, and he may not do it for the next decade, but he’s enjoying watching the Lakers rebuild while Spectrum reloads.
“I think I saw it as one of many options after my playing career,” Fisher said. “I'm enjoying having a purpose for keeping up with basketball and the Lakers this year, and it's been fun so far.”
*Quotes obtained firsthand