HoopsHype.com Interviews

Derek Fisher: "We just want both guys to focus on winning"
by Michael Eaves / October 29, 2003

After Phil Jackson and Mitch Kupchak told Shaq and Kobe to stop talking to the media about their differences, Kobe did it anyway. How disappointed are you and your teammates in what Kobe said and did?

Derek Fisher: I think most of the disappointment is just the entire situation. It's just bad timing. I don't think the rest of us were really aware of what Shaq and Phil talked about and what Kobe and Mitch talked about and this agreement they made in terms of not saying anything. So we weren't really aware of all those circumstances.

But he gave his word that he wouldn't say anything, and yet he still did.

DF: As I said, I wasn't aware of the commitment or the things they said in terms of not saying anything to the media. But, Phil addressed his disappointment with Kobe after they agreed Monday not to make any more statements or comments. So, I'll leave that up to Phil.

Just as a teammate though, we just want both guys to focus on the fact that we are trying to do something that we've gotten used to. And that's winning. We learned last year that starting off in a hole is not easy to get back out of and all of a sudden try to win a championship. It's about starting the season and seeing if we can get this thing started off on the right foot.

Is this ongoing feud between Shaq and Kobe becoming a divisive issue in the locker room?

DF: I don't think anyone, if anybody, is choosing sides about which guy was the most wrong. I think more than anything, it's just not the best timing for us to be dealing with those type of internal and external pressures. We have enough of it as it is. We don't need to inflict any more onto ourselves.

Karl Malone said he's not getting paid enough to put up with a situation like the one Kobe and Shaq have created, and Gary Payton said he came to the Lakers to play basketball and that's what he's going to do? Where do they fit in to all of this drama?

DF: We owe them a lot. We owe them more than continuing to carry baggage that's already been discussed or been opened. Let's close it, get past it, open some new books and some new chapters, and re-establish ourselves as champions in this league.

Do you feel comfortable saying Shaq and Kobe now see eye-to-eye and that there is no problem?

DF: It's always hard, I would say, for two guys that powerful to see eye-to-eye or see things the same way. I think for us to expect that probably continues to cause problems or feed into the fact that they don't have to see eye-to-eye in terms of style of play or the way each one plays the game. When you are part of a group, and that goes for all of us not just those two guys, it doesn't really matter what your individual goals are, what you want to accomplish individually, or what you think about other guys individually.

Once you step inside these four lines, it's about all five guys on the court, the 10 guys on the bench, the coaches, the fans, the entire team and organization. That comes first. The NBA, the Lakers, all that will continue after I'm gone, after Shaq and Kobe are gone, once Phil stops coaching, Mitch is somewhere else, and Ronnie Lester (Assistant General Manager) is somewhere on vacation chilling and he's retired. It's still going to be the Lakers, and that's what we have to continue to understand. This game, this team, this city, and this organization are all bigger than us as individuals.

How are you capable of not allowing this situation to affect the play on the court?

DF: Basketball is a funny game, and it's a game of reaction and split-second decisions. And because of that, you have to stay where you are. There's really no room to think about outside things at that very moment. That moment when it's time to shoot or make a pass, get a rebound or go for a steal, there's no room to think about anything else. As a team and as individuals collectively, we have to keep that in mind. There's no way to just wish away the things that are going on off the court, but while we are on the court and while we are in the game for that 48 minutes, it's nothing else to think about except winning and losing. We don't want to lose very many games. So let's just keep our thoughts on the positive things, and that's winning.

Kobe didn't play in the opener Tuesday, which may have added even more suspicion to this whole situation.

DF: It's our understanding that he wants to make sure that his knee and his leg are strong as possible before he gets out there. We totally understand that. Hopefully it's not anything that has to do with this situation or his unhappiness overall -- whether it's the offense, Shaq, Phil or whatever it is. He wants to be in the best shape physically he can be in, and we're in support of that. But as you said, with the timing of everything going on, nothing seems to be pure in what it is. Everything now has to have an underlying meaning. We don't need that and we don't want that.

Is there a sense of Kobe letting the team down by not playing?

DF: I don't think so. More than anything what we're learning now is that the last two preseason games he played in, you know, he wanted to see if he was really ready to play at a high level. And he learned maybe that he wouldn't be able to. Depending on how you look at it, he could be more of a man and more of a teammate by choosing not to play because he doesn't want to hurt the team and have to take shots and do things he's not capable of doing at this point in time. So in some ways, you would have to give him a lot of credit, but obviously, we want him out there as soon as possible.

Michael Eaves covers the NBA for FOX Sports West in Southern California. You can reach him at meaves@foxsports.net

Tell us what you think about this interview. E-mail us at HoopsHype@HoopsHype.com