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Scott Howard-Cooper

Derek Fisher and new coach Mike Brown are still trying to see what works for the new-look Lakers.
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Fisher facing physical, team challenges in return to floor

Posted Dec 27 2011 11:05AM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Derek Fisher huddled with coach Mike Brown and two Brown assistants in a back corner of the Lakers' locker room Monday night, then huddled some more. Forty minutes had passed since the end of the game. Forty-five. Fifty.

They huddled so long, Fisher standing and Brown flanked by John Kuester and Ettore Messina in chairs, that the visitors' quarters in Power Balance Pavilion was empty when the meeting finally adjourned. Fisher was the last Laker to leave the room, the last to walk across the court and the last to disappear into the secure area to hop the bus for the ride to the airport and the charter flight back to Los Angeles. It would be a very long night.

This was no emergency session, Fisher explained later. The Lakers are 0-2, but Andrew Bynum is suspended, Kobe Bryant is hurt, Devin Ebanks and Josh McRoberts are starting and, oh, yeah, they know a real crisis and this ain't it. (Yet.) Fisher wanted to "communicate to our coaches my understanding of our team and personalities and how we can get the most out of each other and out of ourselves."

Fisher's longstanding role as the Lakers' starting point guard was not secure until late in preseason. He spent the summer hopping around in his role as union president, which had some impact on his basketball, Brown has noted. And the Lakers nearly replaced him with Chris Paul a few weeks ago, though that trade fell so famously through.

But the Lakers' locker room belongs to Fisher and Bryant still, until someone shoves a lot harder.

The collateral damage from the lockout is the pressing part. Fisher did not play in the first exhibition game because the Lakers preferred he go through an exercise regimen to get in better shape. Then he played in the exhibition rematch against the Clippers. He logged 23 minutes in the season opener Sunday against Chicago.

"He's getting closer every day," Brown said. "He probably would say he still has a little bit of ground (to make up). It's not just conditioning. It's more basketball shape than anything else. A lot of these guys, on everybody's team, they had a chance to go here and play pickup, spend time in Vegas or whatever, work out and all that. And he was not doing that. He was on the phone, on his computer sending e-mails back and forth, and flying from L.A. to New York. He had probably one of the toughest offseasons this time around compared to anybody."

Actually, Fisher would not say he has ground to make up. He went 30 minutes in the 100-91 loss Monday night, then pronounced himself NBA fit.

"Overall, I'm fine," he said. "The more challenging part for me at this point is figuring out how to run this team and lead this team in the way that coach needs me to in order to be successful ... It was abnormal and not a typical offseason. But I was physically able to get a lot of things done."

Fisher was not the kind of big guard Phil Jackson ordinarily preferred, but won over the previous coach with leadership, toughness, clutch play and the special partnership with Bryant, all the way to where Jackson had steadfastly refused to demote Fisher as his shooting struggles mounted.

Brown has no such loyalties, though. The working relationship between the new coach and the incumbent point guard was always going to be one of the early season storylines for the Lakers. Fisher obviously would have lost his spot to Paul, had that trade happened. But to Steve Blake, as had been considered?

It wasn't until the first exhibition game, when Fisher drilled before tipoff but sat during the contest, that Brown said Fisher would "probably" remain as starter. The probably became officially within days, but the conditioning issue remained, no matter that Fisher's dedication to fitness and preparation had been above question before.

So, a lot of talks.

Fisher said he does not regret taking on his prominent role during the labor negotiations, even though it led to reputation hits unlike anything he faced in 15 previous seasons. Whether that set back his preparation or not, Fisher said he is better for the experience.

"I learned that being an executive or a CEO or what some people would consider to be a politician is much harder than it looks," he said.

He said he still plans to go into business after his playing career and that politics is out for sure now, after all those battles across the labor negotiating table.

But that was mainly what came from Fisher's hectic summer and fall. Not a lack of conditioning. And not a loss of his starting job. Not while he still has something to say about it.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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