With a plane flight to Denver waiting soon after practice, there wasn't a ton of player availability this afternoon. Those who did speak, however, were predictably asked for their take on Derek Fisher's comments following Tuesday's lackadaisical win over the Wolves. From start to finish, focus and execution was on glaringly short supply, and Fisher, typically one to err on the side of calm, opted not to mince words:
"The way we played tonight was irresponsible and it was reckless and it was disrespectful. I can't get any clearer than that. There was an air of complacency, of arrogance, of 'we don't have to play as hard as the other team to win' that I didn't like tonight."
Added the team co-captain...
"We just finished [playing the game] and so obviously my emotions are higher now than they might be tomorrow, but that's just how I feel about it. It didn't have to take place the way that it did. It wasn't the right way to play the game."
Well, Fisher didn't address the media today, so no direct word as to whether a night's sleep created more calm for the veteran. But his words weren't a talking point at practice, nor did Phil Jackson even feel the need to revisit how poorly the team played, as there were no illusions otherwise. And judging by the reactions of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Jackson, Fisher's take was spot on, if perhaps presented a little too strongly. As PJ pointed out, "disrespect is a potent word in our society." (And in particular, among today's athletes.)
"I think we know yesterday was a tough game for us but I don't want to be too harsh," noted Bryant, who nonetheless had zero problem with Fisher's statement in a vacuum. If anything, he seemed more amused by a throng of reporters seeing a side of his longtime teammate often kept under wraps. Indeed, the irony of Fisher playing bad cop to a mellow Kobe is thick.
"Derek gets upset," revealed Kobe. "His temper, in a lot of ways, is quicker than mine, especially when he doesn't agree with the effort that's being put out on the floor."
Kobe was also visibly amused at how many questions were being asked as the result of what might be a "D-" win, but a victory nonetheless maintaining a perfect 8-0 record.
"We must be a really good team, if we're really talking about this game yesterday," chuckled the infamous perfectionist.
All jokes aside, deep down in places he doesn't talk about at parties (especially parties attended primarily by media members), I imagine Kobe understands the gravity of the situation, even at its most relative. You always want to find purpose to being on the court, even during an ultimately insignificant setting with no real stakes. A game spent rudderless is both an opportunity wasted and wasted time, which understandably didn't sit well with Fisher.
Still, Kobe probably raises a valid point inferring too much is being made by the media -- perhaps the K Bros included -- over one undeniably rotten effort. Not that it should be excused, and writers have to craft their articles, but at the same time, is there really much to analyze? Even as a team with a reputation (albeit somewhat overblown) for playing down to the competition, by definition, a night like Tuesday's isn't habitual. Otherwise, Fisher's pointed criticism would be heard every other game or never at all, since halfhearted would be the accepted norm.
Again, nobody should downplay the slack job, but there's also no real reason to "up-play" it, especially with a veteran crew whose focus has already passed a myriad of difficult tests. And in a weird way, this turn of events allowed us to see exactly why the Lakers are such a good team.
They have a respected leader unafraid to call out himself and teammates after the job gets mailed in. They have the collective accountability to appreciate his words, rather than turn defensive over them. And there is enough perspective to know Tuesday doesn't change who they are, which allows them to move forward.
When I asked if too big a deal can be made out of Tuesday's disappointment, Gasol offered a pretty fair summary:
"It would be [an issue] if it happens two or three more games. One game. Not a big deal. If you win the game. Not a big deal. A few more games, a concern."
So as we speak?
"Not a concern."
Given this team's track record, I'm inclined to take his word.