Here's a scene of everyday NBA cruelty: Derek Fisher, surrounded by a few bored reporters, fielding questions about whether the Lakers can contend without bringing in fresh talent. Derek's looking blasé, dispensing murmured cliches, just a man fulfilling a professional obligation. No, I can't comment on Gilbert Arenas. Well, that's up to Mitch. Mitch makes those decisions. Right now we're trying to improve with the guys we've got in the locker room. No, I don't know what the other guys think. You'd have to ask them. Right now I'm just focused on the team we have.
Derek Fisher is not an idiot. He's 37 years old; he's won five NBA titles. The Larry O'Brien Trophy is filthy with his fingerprints. He knows what a winning team looks like. He also knows that he is personally averaging 5.1 points per game this year, his fewest since his rookie season, while shooting 35 percent from the field and 26 percent from 3-point range. He understands that he is one of the biggest defensive liabilities in the league. He understands that if the Lakers are missing something, the void — or part of the void, or one of the several voids — centers on him. Bynum kicks it out to Bryant, Bryant dishes it to [empty point guard space].
So he knows that if the reporters are right that the Lakers "need something," then whatever something the Lakers need would very likely either replace him for long stretches or render him obsolete. So what he's doing now is taking oblique questions about the end of his career. Having functionally evaporated on the court, he's now expected to stand in the middle of a half-moon of dudes hoisting recorders and talk about whether the team ought to admit that they've noticed. If he were Kobe in this situation, he'd get mad — but again, he just let Jeremy Lin torch him for 38 points. So he offers polite, empty answers, because, well, that's his job, and he wants to keep doing it. There's nothing remarkable, or even particularly noticeable, about this. You don't lose it all at once, most of the time, in sports. You lose it in tiny, banal, unnoticeable increments.