Derek Fisher cites Kobe Bryant and city of Los Angeles as reasons he re-signed with the Lakers
Nearly every day during the free agency process, Derek Fisher talked with Kobe Bryant on the phone to update him on his latest line of thinking. Though Fisher had never deviated from his stance, shared in his exit interview, that he'd want to remain a Laker if possible but would explore other options and compare those to how he's measured with his current team, he wanted Bryant within his inner circle so he'd be fully aware with what's going on. It's a common bond the two have shared since both entering the league in 1996, winning all five of their NBA titles together, becoming the team's co-leaders the past two seasons and sharing the same agent in Rob Pelinka.
"I just felt it was important for him to understand my thoughts as the process unfolded," Fisher said Friday outside HAX in Hawthorne, where all week he has run his basketball camp for about 200 players between ages 7 and 15, and 11 days since he agreed to terms on a three-year contract believed to be worth about $10.5 million, including a player option in the third year. "If I did choose to go somewhere else, if I wanted somebody to understand it fully, I wanted him to understand it."
One of those reasons involved Bryant, whom Fisher recalled didn't try to persuade him one away or another, though his statement made it clear Bryant hoped he'd remain with the defending champions. "We have a bond that I think just didn't want to break."
Another reason entailed the fact the Lakers are primed for a three-peat. "I think we can lead our team to another championship this season," Fisher said. "and that was a big motivating factor."
And the last factor involved the city of Los Angeles itself, a place where Fisher currently lives, has held his basketball camp for two consecutive years and a reason why he left Utah in 2007 -- so his then 10-month year-old daughter, Tatum, could have quality care to treat a form of eye cancer.
"I spent my entire adult life here and it feels like home," Fisher said. "It was a lot of outside just the Lakers that really just factored into my decision."
What appeared conspicuously absent in a nearly 14-minute interview with reporters Friday was any mention that he re-signed with the Lakers because of the organization itself. Fisher's professionalism masked all that. He didn't put the team on blast for having to take a cut from the $5.048 million he made last season. He shot down a reporter's assessments that he was frustrated with how everything transpired before adding, "I fully understand that this is a business. They have a job to do in terms of negotiations contracts and trying to re-sign guys. I fully respect it." And he made it clear he hoped his considering other options made it apparent that "I'm not handicapping myself to just staying in one place." His options had included reported offers from Miami, Cleveland, Chicago, Minnesota and New Jersey, though he indicated in his statement there were other possibilities the media didn't report. Yet, I couldn't help but read between the lines and believe that to some degree Fisher feels hurt after this whole process.
Though I've been a strong advocate of what he brings to the team and that he should've gotten an offer he was seeking from the Lakers, I understand the Lakers want to cut costs and find some way to keep their team's luxury taxes as low as possible without compromising their ability to build championship rosters. Even with the Lakers' off-season additions of Steve Blake (four years, $16 million), Matt Barnes (two years, as much as $1.77 next season and a player option for $2 million in the 2011-2012 season and Theo Ratliff (one year, $1.35 million) coming at a modest price, the only trimming the Lakers have really made this off-season points to Fisher's contract and Jordan Farmar's departure to the New Jersey Nets. As much as I've liked the Lakers' off-season moves and understand the business market suggested Fisher wasn't worth as much as he had hoped he'd be, I wish the Lakers would've thrown Fisher more of a bone.
This likely won't lead to any drastic consequences with the Lakers, knowing they must run a legitimate business operation and with Fisher being the consummate professional. But the relationship surely contrasts Fisher's nostalgic sentiments about Bryant and his roots in the city. He's built a solid foundation with the Lakers, has earned universal respect in the locker room and has constructed championship credibility. But instead of embracing the fact there are few other than Fisher who can bring that presence to the Lakers, the organization acted with the knowledge that those skill sets aren't as easily transferable to other teams because it takes time and trust to solidify those qualities. And it appeared obvious that the Lakers measured those variables against Fisher simply because it could.
"There's no exact science to a lot of things that take place," Fisher said of the negotiation process. "I guess I wasn't surprised in terms of the timing of it. I just think it probably caused a little bit more delay and stress than all the people wanted to experience, but I still think it worked out for the best. I think it's a decision that I can appreciate, that I can live with. I'm excited about these next three years."
And he's already in season form. Fisher began working out nine days ago to get ready. When he was asked whether the Lakers improved during the off-season, he pointed out that he never likes losing teammates before immediately embracing the new arrivals. And when he was told Vegas oddsmakers had named Miami as the favorite to win the title, he sent two different messages to his team. One served as a rallying cry: "Vegas? They don't have a team. How can they say who's to beat?" The other served as a warning: "If we thought this past year was difficult, wait until we get to this year."
Yes, Fisher will still bring the same dependable qualities the Lakers know and love. But when he proves instrumental toward the team's success next season, the organization should be aware that this was made possible not because of them, but because of his relationship with Bryant, his attachment to the city and the lure of another championship still awaiting.
"Every decision I make for the most part is a life decision," said Fisher, who added that belief influenced his thinking in playing for Golden State in 2004 in hopes he could lead a team. "I never really considered myself to just be a basketball player. Even had I chosen to go elsewhere would've been a life decision."
Thankfully for the Lakers, Fisher's life decision involved them.
-- Mark Medina
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