Thursday, March 29, 2012 Updated: April 1, 3:51 PM ET
Derek Fisher's still on winning side
By J.A. Adande ESPN.com
LOS ANGELES -- Once he got over the shock that the Lakers organization for which he'd won five championships had traded him without so much as a heads-up phone call, once he negotiated a buyout from the Houston Rockets and navigated his way to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Derek Fisher came to this realization: "I'm in a good place right now."
Here's what's obvious after the Thunder handled the Lakers at Staples Center Thursday night: He's in a better place.
The Thunder are now, the Lakers are then, not just for Fisher's career but for championship consideration.
It was one thing for the Lakers to lose in Oklahoma City on Feb. 23 after playing in Dallas the night before. It's another to fall to the Thunder, 102-93, at home, coming off a practice day, after a first half in which Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook shot a combined 8-for-26.
Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, no longer a formidable pair for the Lakers.
The Lakers enjoyed a strong opening quarter, with Andrew Bynum asserting himself inside and Metta World Peace making life difficult for Durant. Then, predictably, the Thunder's second unit outperformed the Laker reserves. Fisher chipped in seven points. And in the third quarter Westbrook revved up his engine (like the little hot rod in this Tex Avery cartoon) and the Lakers couldn't keep up.
Westbrook scored 17 points in the third quarter (coming within a basket of the entire Laker output) and finished with 36. Durant dutifully filled in the gaps, with 11 rebounds, five assists and defense on everyone from Pau Gasol to Kobe Bryant.
It didn't even matter that Bynum gives the Lakers the inside advantage, an element the Miami Heat severely lack against the Thunder. Oklahoma City's perimeter play, from the threats of Durant to the defense of Thabo Sefolosha on Kobe, was more than enough. Ramon Sessions, the long-awaited younger and faster alternative to Fisher, couldn't make a dent. His seven points were no better than what Fisher scored against his former team.
And now that the trade deadline has passed there is nothing the Lakers can do to bridge the fundamental gap between them and Oklahoma City.
"They're younger and they have more [energy] than we do," Bryant said.
The Thunder have a completely different attitude as well, one Fisher has quickly picked up on.
"Just unbridled passion," Fisher said. "A free spirit in terms of just enjoying playing the game, which I think is common in teams that haven't quite won the championship yet.
"When you start winning or you win the championship, you're carrying that baggage with you, to have to do it again. It's extremely refreshing and enjoyable to play on a team that's really not playing with any additional pressure to have to do anything. We're showing up every night just having fun and playing the game. To be on such a young team, it's extremely fun."
Even though the Thunder are emerging as the favorites to win it all, it won't be a catastrophe if it doesn't happen this season. Durant, Westbrook, James Harden, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka are all under 28 years old.
But do they have that championship mentality? Is a team that has only made one extended playoff run together ready to take the final, most difficult steps?
"I do think so," Fisher said.
He's there to provide those precious bits of wisdom, to see how much of those 209 career playoff games' worth of knowledge he can download into their brains.
I walked behind the Thunder bench during a timeout and caught Durant just looking at Fisher. It appeared that Durant was eager to absorb whatever he could from him. Remember, Fisher brings no value if the younger guys aren't receptive to him.
Meanwhile, I'm wondering if the Lakers miss Fisher's voice, if he could have helped rein in Bynum from his Adventures in 3-point Land this week. The Lakers can't be ready to take down the Thunder, Spurs, or anyone else in the upper echelon of the Western Conference until they get their agendas aligned. They aren't there now. Nor are they perched in the top spot anymore.
Bryant admitted what's obvious to anyone watching the league, that now the Lakers must measure themselves against the Thunder, not the other way around.
"Times change," Bryant said.
Even mainstay players change, as Fisher learned the hard way.
"Obviously the team felt that they needed to move on," Fisher said. "And I have as well."
Only in Fisher's case, he's moving up as well.