Fans of the Los Angeles Lakers and even the players knew a deal was coming before Thursday's NBA trade deadline. And even with that knowledge, both were blindsided. Again. Point guard Derek Fisher, a Laker for 13 years with five league championships, was traded to the Houston Rockets for a guy named Jordan Hill. The 37 year-old Fisher is indeed slowing down a bit, but has still been a key part of the franchise. Now dispatched, dumped. Just like that.
The Lakers needed a new point guard. They tried to trade for Chris Paul just before the start of the season. When that didn't happen, the Lakers waited until the deadline, and just before dumping Fisher, acquired Ramon Sessions from Cleveland. Apparently ownership (ahh, ownership) felt that Sessions, Fisher, and other point guard Steve Blake couldn't all coexist.
Let's talk about ownership for a moment, shall we? Dodger fans are waiting with anticipation, knowing Frank McCourt will have a new owner for that franchise picked by the end of the month. However, there has been another ownership change in Los Angeles that has gone relatively unnoticed, perhaps until now. Jerry Buss isn't really the owner of the Lakers anymore. His idiot son Jerry W. Buss (paraphasing a lot of David Letterman jokes—the younger Buss' name is really Jim) is now in charge. Jerry Buss wanted to win titles, Jim Buss seems more about saving money.
I mentioned earlier that the Lakers and fans were blindsided again. Just prior to the beginning of the lockout-shortened season, the Lakers tried to trade for the aforementioned Paul. It was a three-team deal that had been agreed to, shipping Lamar Odom to New Orleans, and Paul Gasol to Houston. The league currently owns the Hornets, and commissioner David Stern decided the deal wasn't kosher. Odom was so upset, he reportedly demanded a trade, and was gone 24 hours later to Dallas (for nothing, saving the Lakers money). Gasol was equally upset, but has played through it, thinking he could be dealt at any time. That's why it was such a surprise that it was Fisher who was shipped out.
Fisher will always be known in Lakerland for game-winning shots and drives. On an inbound play with point-four seconds on the clock, Fisher swished a 15-footer to beat San Antonio in the playoffs. That was eight years ago. But even with his diminishing numbers this year, he still had a buzzer-beater against Dallas, and was the conscience and character of the Lakers for years.
The Lakers would have had to pay Fisher 3.4 million dollars next year, and that was the real reason for the trade. It's understandable that a 38 year-old might not be worth that kind of money, but ending Fisher's Laker career like this is not. So, while Fisher leaves L.A. as a hero, Jim Buss is angering and frustrating players and fans. Buss has a long way to go to catch up with Frank McCourt. Laker lovers hope it stays that way.
Note: Fisher, who is president of the NBA Players Association, took some flack on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption Monday for refusing to report to Houston. Yes, Fisher negotiated the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but agreeing to a contract buyout after a trade is well within the rules. The Rockets bought out Fisher's contract, making him a free agent. He is free to sign with any other team, except the Lakers.
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Tourney tastes: It always seemed to me in the past, that Thursday was the upset day in the opening weekend of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. This year, Thursday only had two mild upsets with VCU and Colorado, but Friday had the stunners with Norfolk State, Lehigh, and Ohio...Norfolk State's fame after the 15th seed Spartans upset Missouri lasted only two hours. All was forgotten it seems when Lehigh, another 15 seed, ousted Duke. Missouri was better than Duke this year but Lehigh's win got all the headlines. Thirteenth seed Ohio's Friday win over Michigan went virtually unnoticed until the Bobcats beat South Florida on Sunday, despite having Nick Kellogg. Kellogg is the son of lead CBS analyst Clark Kellogg... All four Ohio schools in the tournament (Cincinnati, Ohio, Ohio State, Xavier) have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. All four California schools (Cal, Long Beach State, St. Mary's, San Diego State) lost their first game...Baylor (located in Waco, Texas), is the farthest west remaining school still in the field... There are no more games scheduled to be televised on TruTV. That's good news for us Comcast customers after the cable guys moved that channel to a more expensive tier. CBS and TBS split the coverage for the remainder, with CBS getting the title game this year and next, but TBS getting the Championship in 2014... I watched one of the TruTV games online instead, and it was hilarious when announcer Jim Nantz, who is used to doing promos for the Master's, instead do a read for Hardcore Pawn and Lizard Lick Towing.
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Spring stories: Between ESPN, ESPN2, WGN-TV, and the Giants telecasts, there will be 11 straight days of Spring Training Baseball on the tube. The marathon kicked off this morning with Detroit-Philadelphia...Believe it or not, the Major League season begins next week when the Oakland A's face the Seattle Mariners in Japan March 28-29. Only fans in Seattle will get to see the games on TV live. The A's are not televising from Tokyo, and the MLB Network will carry the games (that start at 3am and 2am Pacific Time) on tape delay... Vin Scully will be broadcasting fewer Dodger games this year, eliminating Denver from his travel schedule. The past few years, Scully has done all televised home games, and road games in the National League West. He'll also skip an interleague trip to Seattle this season. Scully will still do over 100 games, and as far as I'm concerned, should have a lifetime contract and be able to write his own ticket, if he doesn't already.
Gold Sox watch: Oakland A's catcher Max Stassi has been re-assigned to minor league camp, meaning it will be unlikely he'll appear in any more spring games with the big club. Stassi had one big-league appearance this spring and went 0-for-2. Just a guess, but Stassi would appear to be ticketed to open the 2012 season at single-A Stockton... Anthony Bass, who made his Major League debut with the Padres last season, pitched two scoreless innings Sunday against the Giants, but could be headed to triple-A Tucson to open the season, according to rotowire.com. Bass is competing for the fifth-starter spot... In three outings, Tampa Bay pitcher Marquis Fleming has no walks and five strikeouts, and opposing hitters are batting just .188 against him. He is scheduled to be the first reliever in Tuesday's game against Miami. If Fleming doesn't win a spot in the Rays bullpen, at least he's opening some eyes... Justin Souza, a minor league pitcher with the A's, appeared in the televised game Saturday against the Giants and faced two batters. He gave up a base hit to Mike Fontenot, and after a passed ball and a wild pitch that allowed a run to score (not charged to Souza), he got a fly ball out to end the inning. Souza will likely be at triple-A Sacramento this season.
Kurk-gems: So far, and by far, the most entertaining part of spring training has been three different players doing their imitations of ESPN reporter Tim Kurkjian. The diminutive Kurkjian is not only known for his short stature, but his high, sometimes crackly voice, and also his quotation of seemingly obscure statistics that Kurkjian somehow makes relevant. Last week on ESPN's Baseball Tonight (which airs during the day in March), Toronto catcher J.P. Arencibia was the first up, and had the voice down. A couple of days later, Tampa Bay infielder Eliot Johnson added some of Kurkjian's mannerisms in his impression. Then, Milwaukee's Tim Dillard seemingly added those two bits together, and did a whole routine, impersonating Kurkjian while interviewing teammate Nyjer Morgan. Unbelievably funny stuff. You can see all three of them on Youtube.