EL SEGUNDO (AP) — Derek Fisher works his way around the perimeter, hoisting jumpers in a solitary shooting drill at the Los Angeles Lakers’ quiet training complex.
Ah, the joys of a simple day job.
The NBA players’ union president is out of his suits and back in shorts after the league’s brutal labor negotiations, focusing on another season with the Lakers.
“I’m grateful for the experience, but hopefully next week we’ll be back to basketball,” Fisher said Friday during a pause in his workout. “It was an exhausting ordeal, but I’m still in a good space and looking forward to working with Coach Brown.”
That would be new Lakers coach Mike Brown, who finally can make some concrete plans more than six months after succeeding 11-time NBA champion Phil Jackson. General manager Mitch Kupchak also is back at work on the truncated offseason, trying to find any way to cram additional depth into the NBA’s largest payroll.
The Lakers are in transition after getting swept out of the second round of last year’s playoffs by the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks, abruptly ending Los Angeles’ quest for a threepeat. Yet there’s also ample continuity around Kobe Bryant: Almost every significant player on last season’s roster is returning, and the Lakers don’t have room to add much more, with Kupchak saying they’ll be “very limited” in free agency.
“We believe this team, as structured, can contend,” Kupchak said. “And on the flip side, we’ll continue to look at all opportunities to improve the team. That could be very minor … but who knows what the future will hold?”
Brown realizes he’ll have almost no time to install his new systems with the Lakers before they open the season on Christmas against Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls. He gave a DVD to all of his players with a detailed explanation of his defensive strategies before the lockout, but knows they’ll need time to grasp its intricacies.
“I enjoy practice. I like to practice a lot, and long,” Brown said. “We won’t have a lot of days, but everybody is going to have the same amount of days. We have to make sure we don’t overdo it. … I’ve just got to make sure I don’t blow my head off my shoulders with excitement and anticipation about going on the floor.”
The longtime Cleveland Cavaliers coach developed his philosophy as an assistant under Rick Carlisle at Indiana and Gregg Popovich at San Antonio, so it won’t be entirely foreign to his players — particularly Metta World Peace, who was Ron Artest when he played for Brown with the Pacers.
There’s another question for the season: What should Brown call the erstwhile Artest, who changed his name in September?
“I might call him Metta, or just Met,” Brown said with a laugh. “You definitely don’t want to call him Peace, because he might think that’s grounds to leave practice.”
Kupchak said he would like to keep backup shooting guard Shannon Brown, but realizes Brown could get a larger, longer contract with another team as a free agent. The GM will search for another ball-handling guard to take Brown’s spot, hoping to find a talented veteran who will accept a modest contract for a shot at a ring.
“When your payroll is as high as ours, it’s not like you can snap your fingers and reduce it quickly,” said Kupchak, who already had $85 million committed to eight players for this season before the labor woes. “We don’t feel like anybody on our team is dramatically overpaid … but we’re going to be very limited in what we can do with this team in free agency.”
The Lakers will start trickling into the gym over the next week while teams wait for permission to start training camp on Dec. 9. Darius Morris, the rookie second-round draft pick out of Michigan, also was at the Lakers’ complex with Fisher on Friday.
After months of working out “any time I could, in just about any gym that was available,” Fisher realizes he’s not leaving behind tension by returning to the Lakers from his union duties. The 37-year-old point guard was unexceptional on both ends of the court last season, scoring just 6.8 points per game — his lowest average in 11 years — and struggling with perimeter defense.
Fisher has started every game in each of his last four seasons since returning to the Lakers, but when Brown was asked Friday if Fisher is his starting point guard, the coach replied: “Possibly.”
Kupchak still admires Fisher’s tenacity with the union.
“I’m not sure many past players’ association presidents have gone through what he’s been through,” Kupchak said. “I think it might set him up for something beyond basketball. Ten or 15 years from now, my guess is he’ll look back on it as a great experience. … I don’t think he’s ever going to be out of shape. I think mentally, he’s relieved and in a better frame of mind.”
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.