Derek Fisher’s Next NBA Team

I’m fairly certain no player who has averaged less than six points and three rebounds in his most recent year, and has gone unsigned heading into the start of the next NBA season, has ever gotten as much attention in an offseason as Derek Fisher.

If you doubt me, first consider there are no less than 15 Bleacher Report articles written in the last month that all center on the same question – should the Los Angeles Lakers resign the 38-year-old Fisher?

The two sides of the argument each have legitimate reasons.

On one end, Fisher is old and has definitely slowed down in the last couple years. He never had the lateral quickness to stay in front of the league’s quickest point guards, and that shortcoming likely cost the Lakers a few wins in the 2011 Playoffs (Fish matched up with Chris Paul in the first round, then Russell Westbrook in the second round).

As Yahoo’s Kelly Dwyer put it in March, 2012:

Fisher, to be quite frank, has been absolutely brutal on both sides of the ball over the last two seasons for Los Angeles. He can’t stay in front of even the NBA’s slowest point guards, at this point, and he offers precious little offensively save for the occasional (as in, “32 percent of the time he shoots one”) 3-point basket. By every conceivable standard, he was a millstone for the team on the court. No amount of leadership and smarts (two things Fisher provides in spades) could make up for his shortcomings.

At the same time, it’s those smarts and leadership qualities – along with a strong friendship with Kobe Bryant – that make him an enticing possibility for the Lakers to resign. Even if the once-clutch Fisher doesn’t have another .4 second miracle in him, his intangibles will eventually land him a spot on somebody’s roster.

The Bulls were apparently showed interest last summer, but according to various reports since then Fisher isn’t interested in playing for a team till mid-season, only to be shoved down the bench once Derrick Rose returns from injury.

Other possibilities besides the Lakers include the Thunder again, the Nets, Mavericks and Celtics. The most logical place for Fisher, if he wants to play an entire season, is the Cleveland Cavaliers, which lack a dependable point guard behind Kyrie Irving (sorry, Booby Gibson).

The safe bet, though, is that Fisher waits it out until spring and goes to a team that has the most attractive combination of postseason potential and available minutes at the point guard position. There’s a strong chance this will be determined by an injury yet to happen.

If the Lakers want him again, it’s likely he’ll want to resign despite the cold way the franchise jettisoned him last season. The combination of staying near his LA home and likelihood of winning a sixth title with his buddy Bryant would seem too strong to pass up.

Let’s say this happens.

Would Fisher represent an upgrade over the current backup point guards – Steve Blake, Chris Duhon or Darius Morris? Instead of looking at basic box score stats, or relying on younger-vs-older player stereotypes, let’s look at the advanced statistics which better tell us the whole story.

Take a deep breath. Do not fear the “pocket squares,” dear reader. For their path is one to enlightenment.

Continue reading Derek Fisher’s Next NBA Team

Kobe Bryant Vs Derek Fisher One-On-One = Near Fight

Despite one of the  most talented starting lineups in NBA history, the Los Angeles Lakers started this preseason with an 0-8 record. The general consensus is that once Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard recover from nagging injuries and start syncing with Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, everything will be relatively fine in Laker land. That by the time spring rolls around, the veterans will have mostly figured it out,  and LA’s 18th championship banner will come ever more into focus for the bleary-eyed unbelievers.

There’s also a contingent that holds out hope around this same time next spring, former Laker Derek Fisher will make his long awaited return after being cast out of the promised land last March. No matter how old Fisher gets (he’s 38 now), some of these fans believe he will never run out of the same .04 magic that propelled the Lakers to the 2004 NBA Finals.

But it won’t be Fisher’s on-court prowess that will ultimately cause Los Angeles to resign him. If that happens, it will be because one of his best friends remains Kobe Bryant, and he commands a respect from Bryant few other teammates ever have before.

Because before all those champagne-soaked June nights, before the cable show cameos and the millions of Twitter followers, Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant were just two NBA rookies hungry for more court time. Before passing the tests which have made them household names, they first tested each other.

It happened early in the 1996-97 season, at a practice in Milwaukee, Fisher recalled in his autobiography “Character Driven.” The duo played two-on-two with fellow Laker rookies Corie Blount and Travis Knight, then went one-on-one after Blount and Knight left.

It quickly got physical. Bryant, then 18 years old, kept using his off hand to hook Fisher and part a path to the basket, Fisher wrote.

“I told him he was fouling me and he didn’t say a thing, just looked at me with that Kobe glare.”
“I was not going to back down, so the next time he tried to hook me, I fouled him – hard and with a push. He didn’t say anything, just took the ball out again. I fouled him again. Things went from heated to boiling.”
“We got in each other’s face about who was pushing whom. Finally we were chest-to-chest jawing at each other, and even though Kobe is six inches taller than me, I was not going to back down. Besides, I weighed nearly as much as the skinny little dude. I’d had enough and I said, ‘You hook me like that one more time, and we’re going to go? Understand me?'”
“Kobe spat back, ‘Why wait? Let’s go at it right now.’
‘Okay?’
“Fortunately, it didn’t come to our punching each other. We let it drop, and I think we both looked at each other a little bit differently after that. We had tested each other and we’d both passed and earned each other’s respect.”

Respect, indeed. Bryant, of course, would star in the Lakers’ five championships over the next 13 seasons. Yet, his three worst seasons in that span came during the only years  – 2004-2007 – Fisher played elsewhere. Which is why in 2010 Bryant didn’t hesitate to call his teammate from Little Rock the “heart and soul” of the Lakers’ most recent title team.

“We spent long nights together as rookies, battling each other, playing full-court one-on-one games,” he told Sports Illustrated. “We’ve been through it, so he can come to me and say, ‘Kobe, you’re [bleeping] up.’ We owe that to each other.'”

By the way, I got a chance to talk to Fisher earlier in October for an Arkansas Life magazine profile article. I asked him who won the game mentioned above.

“I don’t actually recall if we finished the game if there ever if there ever was a score –to be honest – to say that we both finished,” he said. “I scored my share of points, he scored his share of points. We would generally get closer to knocking each other out before finishing a game. So we’ve had our moments where one got the better of the other.”

Clint Stoerner on why Arkansas should aim to be the “Oregon of the South”

It’s been half a decade since Clint Stoerner last quarterbacked a team. The former Arkansas Razorback record-setter and Dallas Cowboy starter played the last few seasons of his pro career in the Arena Football League before settling in Little Rock in the summer of 2007. Since then, he’s worked in public relations for a medical equipment company and, in his current job, does a little bit of everything as vice president of Stoerner & HaVas Insurance Agency, Inc. It’s work that demands constant travel around Arkansas. And wherever he goes, on camera or off, people want to talk about the state of the Hogs.

Q: You talk about the Razorbacks at a ton of events and fundraisers.With Arkansas struggling, have less people asked you to make these appearances?

A: Absolutely not. If anything, when Arkansas is not doing well, everybody wants to know why, everybody wants to know how, everybody wants to hear somebody else’s take on it. It’s probably better for my business when we don’t do well [chuckling]. I’m busier when controversy hits – things like the Petrino [scandal], when those staying set I start getting calls from everybody, ESPN, everybody.

Q: When do think Bobby Petrino will next coach at a major college or in the NFL?

A: I think he will coach next year. I think there will be some teams out there who are willing to hand him the keys to the palace – the head coaching job – but I definitely think there will be teams out there who will be wanting his services from an offensive coordinator standpoint.

Q: Arkansas (3-4) plays Ole Miss this weekend in Little Rock. How will the Hogs do?

A: I think we’ll see a better team than we saw earlier in the year. I think the guys have matured and come together and seemed to have gotten in a little bit of a rhythm offensively… I think it will be a lot better game than we thought it would be three weeks ago.

Q: Two veteran leaders on Arkansas’ defense – Tenarius Wright and Alonzo Highsmith – are out for the season. Given their absences and the improved upcoming teams, is the Hogs’ defense ultimately in deep trouble?

A: I think it’s all predicated on our offense. Offensively, if we don’t play the way we played the last two weeks, then I think we’ll be in some trouble regardless of who the opponent is. I think we are good enough defensively where if we do our job offensively we’ll be fine.

Q: So, how many games will Arkansas end up winning?

A: I think we will win six, maybe seven. We get by Ole Miss and Tulsa, that puts us at 5-4. I think we’ll get one of the last three matches against LSU, South Carolina and Mississippi State. I don’t think we’ve got what it takes to beat South Carolina on the road but I do think we’ve got what it takes – if we pick play up to our potential – to possibly beat the other two.

Q: When you talk to fans, who are the top three candidates for Arkansas’ next head coach you hear about? No Jon Gruden, Pete Carroll or Vince Lombardi allowed.

A: The main ones with Arkansas ties are who everybody wants to talk about. That’s Butch Davis, Tommy Tuberville, and Charlie Strong. That’s just the way Arkansas is. It’s a great thing – everybody wants a guy who’s got ties to the state but I just don’t think Jeff Long has those same thoughts. I just don’t think it’s a priority in his mind. Personally, I think it’s just not going to be a head coach. It’s going to have to be a combination of a head coach and a coordinator to make a difference. If it’s a defensive coach, then you need an offensive coordinator that’s special. If it’s an offensive coach, then you need a defensive coordinator that’s special.

Q: Who’s your top candidate, then?

Continue reading Clint Stoerner on why Arkansas should aim to be the “Oregon of the South”

When the Philadelphia Eagles, Detroit Lions and Los Angeles Rams played in Arkansas

There hasn’t been much major pro action in Arkansas since this guy returned to Little Rock in 1964.

In last week’s post about Norris Armstrong, I mentioned players from his NFL team competed in two games in Arkansas in the early 1920s.

I wrote this might have possibly been the only times NFL-associated games were played in Arkansas. Turns out, there have been at least three more such games. All three games were preseason exhibition games and featured teams which had lodged in Hot Springs before hopping on the train for Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium:

1. September 10, 1949 – The world champion Philadelphia Eagles trained in Hot Springs before playing the the Los Angeles Rams to a 24-24 tie in Little Rock.

2. September 1, 1951- The Eagles trained in Hot Springs before losing to the Los Angeles Rams* 31-26.

Twenty-seven thousand people attended this game; it’s fair to assume many were there to see the Eagles’ Clyde Scott, who’d earned All-American honors for the Arkansas Razorback in 1948 before being drafted by Philadelphia the next year. He only played five seasons in the NFL but 1951 would be his finest. He ran for 151 yards, caught for 212 yards and scored four touchdowns altogether.

3. August 23, 1952 – The Detroit Lions trained in Hot Springs, and beat the Eagles 7-3 at War Memorial in front of more than 22,000 spectators. Detroit’s Doak Walker scored the game-winning TD in the fourth quarter.

This time, fans had two former Arkansas Razorback standouts to cheer, as the Lions had drafted kicker Pat Summerall. This would be one of the only games Summerall played for the Lions as an injury cut his rookie season short. He played the rest of his career in Chicago and New York. Summerall ended up making 47% of the field goals he attempted in his career (with a high of 69% in 1959).

At first glance, these numbers look absolutely horrible.

Then I wondered whether field goal accuracy through the decades had improved (in part due to emergence of soccer style kicking and improving training methods). Sure enough, it has, based on these pro-football-reference.com numbers:

Continue reading When the Philadelphia Eagles, Detroit Lions and Los Angeles Rams played in Arkansas

Arkansas AD Jeff Long on coaching search, John L. bankruptcy and playing in-state competition

Some interesting stuff from Arkansas’ athletic director Jeff Long, who spoke at the Little Rock Touchdown Club today.

He came out in true Jeff Long fashion, not so much with guns a-blazing – more like rumor flame extinguishers a-spraying – with stuff like this:

“Somebody shared with me that somewhere I was quoted as saying I was going to make the next head football coach at the University of Arkansas the highest-paid coach in the country. That’s simply not true. That would be an irresponsible statement to make.”

Here’s more of Long’s insight into the coaching search

HOW FAR INTO THE PROCESS OF SELECTING A NEXT HEAD COACH?

“Just research at this point … You know, in our world unlike the business world, you just don’t pick out a candidate and go and get him. We have some unwritten protocols that we file try to follow. They’re getting blurrier in our profession – what’s appropriate and what isn’t. I’m going to try to walk that line and and not invade or intrude upon a coach who’s a season. That’s important that you do it the right way. Certainly, there are a lot of third that are trying to get us information parties that are out there that are trying to get us information about those who are interested in those who might not be. We’ve got to walk a fine line there.”

ON REACTING TO FANS’ SUGGESTIONS FOR NEXT COACH

“Trying to judge who you all think would be a quality candidate is really, really difficult because I’ve gotten letters and e-mails from everything from high school coaches to retired coaches to NFL head coaches, so there’s everything in between”

ON THE WIDTH OF THE NET HE’S CASTING

“Certainly top assistants are not out of the question. I think if you just look around our own conference and you look at some of the schools that have great tradition, have great resources and maybe reside in a state with great recruiting – they could have gone out and chosen a proven head coach, and they ended up with a top notch coordinator. So, I’m certainly not going limit my head coaching search to only current head coaches. There are a lot of offensive coordinators, defensive coordintors, who make that step like a Bob stoops did 10, 12 years ago when he went from a coordinator at Florida to a national championship in two years.”

WHEN WILL YOU DECIDE?

“I’m hopeful that we will have a decision made within a couple weeks after the end of the regular season.”

Continue reading Arkansas AD Jeff Long on coaching search, John L. bankruptcy and playing in-state competition

How a Fort Smith native helped put Centre College & Southern football on the national map

Carroll University Library Archives

Before Paul Ryan and Joe Biden, and before Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman in 2000, this Arkansan took Centre’s stage.

In the 21st century, Centre College’s national reputation has been staked to two events: the 2000 vice presidential debate and Thursday’s vice presidential debate/smirkfest pitting incumbent Joe Biden against Republican Paul Ryan.

For the 20th century, though, there is no debate on which event stands above the rest in the annals of this small, Presbyterian Kentucky school.

In 1921, Centre College’s football team snapped then powerhouse Harvard’s five-year winning  streak, which the New York Times tabbed as arguably the century’s greatest upset. It might not have happened without Centre captain Norris Armstrong, a native of Fort Smith, Ark.  Armstrong’s role in that 6-0 road victory wasn’t flashy; not that there was too much flash to go around in a game that ended 6-0 and was played in the 1920s. But the 5-10, 165-pound Armstrong did provide crucial blocking on teammate Bo McMillin’s a looping 32-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter. So much acclaim came from this upset by a school of less than 300 students, that apparently McMillan later had a board game named after him.

“It’s the archetypal story of the underdog; Centre was so much smaller than Harvard,” the school’s director of communications told The Advocate-Messengera local newspaper, in 2006. “Also, there was prejudice against the South, and Centre was viewed as being in the South. And the fact these Southern boys went up there and give mighty Harvard a lesson in football captured the nation’s attention.”

Not surprisingly, the players got much ink in the following months and even met movie stars in Hollywood. Unfortunately, any articles written about Norris Armstrong, who went on to the NFL before a coaching career, haven’t yet been digitized for easy access online. Thankfully, I’ve had a few people help me fill this void.

Continue reading How a Fort Smith native helped put Centre College & Southern football on the national map

An NBA scouting report on Derek Fisher, circa 1996

Hard to believe it’s been 16 years since D-Fish made his first splash in the NBA. And this fall marks the first fall since 1996 that he isn’t already signed with a team, whether that be Los Angeles, Golden State or Utah. Whoever he lands with next – whether it be the Lakers again, or the Celtics or even Clippers – he’ll be needed more for his off-court leadership qualities than on-court ability.

Before we start ascribing to Fish Creaky Old Man-dom, let’s first recall he was once  one of the most physically imposing guards in the Sun Belt Conference. And that while he was never the quickest NBA guard [the Iverson-Fisher matchup wasn’t pretty in Game 1 of the 2000 NBA Finals] he certainly had the physical chops to impress a few NBA scouts. [Ed: Just found video evidence. This, I believe, is his career’s most impressive dunk]

One such scout was Clarence Gaines II, who on his Web site  “A Scout’s Perspective” shares his take on Fisher from the spring of 1996, a couple months before the draft. Gaines reported the following to the Chicago Bulls:

“… Remarkably, nobody in our organization saw Derek play while he was at Arkansas Little-Rock.  First time I saw Derek play was at post season all-star tournament {Portsmouth Invitational Tournament} in Portsmouth,VA in April of 1996. He played well in Portsmouth, but was not extended an invitation to the the Desert Classic in Phoenix, which featured higher caliber players.  However, a player pulled out of Phoenix and Derek was a last minute replacement. Derek played his first game in Phoenix without the benefit of practice and continued to shine. Derek became the 1st round pick {24th} of the LA Lakers in 1996 because of his play in Post Season All-Star games. He did it the old fashioned way, by not being afraid to showcase his talents in an all-star venue. Derek is a class act. One of the most impressive interviews I participated in during my NBA career.

SCOUTING REPORT- DEREK FISHER – April, 1996
Want to know more about him. Will watch tape. Physically developed. Structurally strong. Has been lifting weights since high school. Strong legs and butt. Big hands. Big body for a point guard. Will be able to defend against bigger guards. Left handed. Possible late 1st round pick–high upside. Good speed with the dribble. Like his ability to turn the corner and get his own shot. Able to rise up and over other point guards off the dribble–gets good lift and has very good leg strength. Shoots best off the dribble. Does a good job of utilizing screens and popping jump shot. Plays bigger than size. Good 1 on 1 skills. Sees the floor on the move. Vision is good in the open court. Has the ability to get all the way to the basket in the open court. Shows deep shooting range–career 38% from the 3 pt. line. Needs to develop more consistency in spot shooting ability. strength of game is currently off the dribble. Can get too infatuated with one-on-one play, but I like his offensive aggressiveness.

Continue reading An NBA scouting report on Derek Fisher, circa 1996

“The Fiercest Tackler Ever Developed in the South”: The Story of Arkansas’ First NFL Player

 

Few photos remain of Ben Winkelman, the NFL’s first Razorback.

Given Arkansas’ nosedive of a season, it’s probably a year later than he would have liked, but Tyler Wilson will eventually join the NFL. And when he does, as an expected early selection in the 2013 Draft, the quarterback will likely be the next of at least 205 Razorbacks to have entered the nation’s most lucrative sports league. He’ll join a world in which quarterbacks make an average annual salary of about $2 million, likely for a franchise worth more than $1 billion.

Nothing, it seems, can slow the NFL’s growth.

Ninety years ago, though, pro football was far less popular than the college variant. The NFL began in 1920 as an outgrowth of the Ohio League, a loose group of semi-pro and pro teams. With crowds rarely topping 6,000 people, it sputtered early on. Franchise entry fees as low as $100 allowed teams to constantly form and disband. In 1922, the Milwaukee Badgers formed, following Green Bay as Wisconsin’s second NFL team. Despite playing both sides of the ball, its players earned no more than $1,800 a season and had to work odd jobs to make ends meet. So did management: Milwaukee’s owner toiled in a Chicago stockyard during the season.

If New England quarterback Tom Brady were parachuted into this era, he would throw no more than a dozen times a contest. The pass, after all, was considered a desperation play. Constant punting, often used on third down for the sake of field position, greatly slowed the game. Safe to say, Brady would have trouble attracting a bob-haired Gisele to his side.

This is the world into which the Hogs’ first NFL player walked.

Fayetteville native Ben Winkelman was good, but no all-time great. His name appears only as a blip among the best Razorbacks around the 1917-21 stint he spent on campus. A UA yearbook lists his off-field exploits – engineering major, clarinet player, member of the Glee Club and Kappa Alpha fraternity – not on-field prowess. The sequence of events leading him from Fayetteville to Milwaukee isn’t known, although Arkansan Norris Armstrong might have had something to do with it. We do know the six-feet, 180-pound Winkelman’s brief but impressive NFL career began Dec. 4, 1922 at Milwaukee’s last game of the season.

Continue reading “The Fiercest Tackler Ever Developed in the South”: The Story of Arkansas’ First NFL Player