Derek Fisher arrived for his Oklahoma City introduction properly attired.
He is wearing Thunder blue now for lots of reasons. His professionalism. His leadership. His experience. But make no mistake, the Thunder didn’t sign the veteran point guard on Wednesday just because of his intangibles.
“He brings a lot of those things in the locker room that we need,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks acknowledged before his team throttled the Clippers 114-91, “but we still need him to play basketball.”
Fisher is so well-known and well-respected for his intangibles that it’s easy to assume that’s why he’s in Oklahoma City. I mean, what he is bringing to this team is amazing. He’s been in the NBA for 15-plus seasons. He’s won five championships. He’s been to the playoffs 13 times.
But despite all of that, he will be the first guy at the gym working on his game. (Well, actually, with this bunch, he might have to set his alarm a little earlier; these Thunder get to the arena hours and hours before tip.)
Traded by the Lakers a week ago, Fisher is still being missed in Los Angeles. Tuesday night, the Lakers imploded against the Rockets, blowing a double-digit lead. But the ugliness went beyond the loss. Andrew Bynum got ejected. Mike Brown got frustrated.
It was the kind of thing Fisher always had an ability to quell. Everyone listened to him. Everyone followed him.
Another sign of the respect that Fisher commands in this league — he’s the president of the NBA Players Association. It’s a spot he’s held for six years, the longest tenure of any president in nearly two decades, and it’s a position that he kept through this latest lockout.
Fisher’s fellow players wanted him helping lead negotiations with the league.
No doubt Fisher brings an impressive resume to Oklahoma City.
“He’s ... someone that I think will help all of our guys — not just the point guards but everybody — in terms of his experiences and things that he can share,” Thunder general managers Sam Presti said.
“Derek, first and foremost, he’s a player,” Presti said. “He’s going to help us on the court.”
He did Wednesday.
Even though he’d been in Oklahoma City less than 24 hours and been through zero practices with the Thunder, he played 19 minutes against the Clippers. He scored five points, grabbed one rebound, dished one assist and even blocked one shot.
“He fit in well,” reserve center Nazr Mohammed said of Fisher’s time with the second unit. “It helped that they played a lot of zone, but he’s played a long time. All the sets are the same, just different names.”
Still, if Fisher can play that well cold, imagine what he’ll do after a practice or two.
He’s more of a set-up guy in the mold of a traditional point guard, and that will be a lot easier once he has a chance to play a bit with these guys.
“I think he’ll bring stability,” reserve forward Nick Collison said after one game with Fisher. “He’s good at handling pressure, at getting into offenses ... and being able to knock down open shots.”
The Thunder hasn’t always received pressure-packed shots or excellent ball movement from its reserve point guard. After Eric Maynor injured his knee early in the season, the Thunder handed those duties to a rookie. A talented rookie. A promising rookie. But a rookie nonetheless.
I’ve been one of the first people to stand up for Reggie Jackson. Near as I can tell, he hasn’t done anything to cost the Thunder a game — and he’s surely not to blame for the roller coaster that this team has been on lately — but if this team truly wants to contend for a championship, it needs more from that position. Fisher brings more.
“He’s going to go out there and hit that open shot, be aggressive, cause problems on the defensive end,” Thunder star Kevin Durant said of what Fisher brings. “He can do a lot of different things.”
Today, the Thunder is closer to being a championship team because of the different things that Fisher can do. Yes, he’s going to be a great locker room guy, a fantastic community ambassador. But more than anything, he’s an upgrade in talent.
The Thunder made the deal and spent the money because it expects big things from him on the court.
“He’s not going to be this guy that’s going to be sitting down with our young players and saying, ‘I remember when we did this,’” Brooks said. “He has to be able to get out on the court and play and be a big part of what we do.”
Fisher needs to do more than look good in Thunder blue. He needs to make Thunder blue look good.