Derek Fisher's stay with the Lakers indicates strong relationship with Kobe Bryant
While Derek Fisher mulled his options, Kobe Bryant reached out to him to make sure he'd eventually choose the Lakers. When Fisher and the Lakers hadn't reached an agreement a week into free agency, Bryant publicly argued the two needed to find a way to find common ground. And when Bryant looked at the possible scenarios heading into July 1, he left it up to General Manager Mitch Kupchak to handle the business before reiterating two things: Phil Jackson needs to stay as head coach if he's healthy enough and Fisher needs to return.
The latter part became official Monday with The Times' Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner reporting that Fisher agreed to a three-year deal with a player option in his final season. Although the terms of the agreement haven't been reported yet, Fisher indicated in a statement on his website that "while this may not be the most lucrative contract I've been offered this off season, it is the most valuable." Though Fisher mentioned he "listened to every coach, every general manager, even potential teammates in order to make the right decision," there was one guy Fisher singled out in his statement.
"At the end of the day, there's one person I could not turn away from. Kobe Bryant asked me to stay but supported whatever decision I made," said Fisher, who also received reported interest from Miami, Cleveland, Chicago, Minnesota and New Jersey, though he indicated in his statement there were other options the media didn't report. "He and I have played together for 11 seasons, came into the league together as kids; he has been loyal to me even when others had doubts. We have won five championships together."
It can't be overstated enough how Bryant and Fisher will prove instrumental in the Lakers' quest next season for a three-peat. Looking at the individual accomplishments alone prove impressive enough. Studying how the two work together adds even more significance. Bryant's credentials and the fact that he'll enter the 20010-2011 season with more rest and in better health than he had last season suggests he'll be even more dangerous. Fisher's clutch shots and locker room presence will help keep the team together, particularly when the Lakers go through lulls in focus and complacency during the regular-season grind. Or as Fisher put it in his statement, "I am confident I will continue to lead this team on and off the court. Let the hunt for six begin." But it's the on-court relationship between Bryant and Fisher that will prove even more valuable to the team's pursuit than their individual successes.
Just as Bryant managed to get in Fisher's ear during contract negotiations, Bryant shared during the NBA Finals that Fisher's the only player on the team that he'll truly listen to at all times. No one questions Bryant's desire to win, his skill-set and work ethic, but few have the credibility to privately and publicly question Bryant (just ask Shaq). No one questions Fisher's leadership credentials and professional attitude, but not everyone would go out of his way and emphasize how highly important Fisher has been to the team like Bryant did during free agency.
When I asked Bryant before the playoffs how Fisher's leadership affects the team, Bryant felt guilty calling him a "glue guy," because he's "much more than that," as Bryant put it. Teammates universally respect Bryant's talent and work ethic, but they don't universally like Bryant's gruff exterior and tendency at times to take over games on his own, which actually prompted Fisher to bail Bryant out of a bad shooting night in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. Fisher's emphasis on sacrificing and staying positive resonates with most teammates, which helps relay Bryant's message in a different tone. Likewise, when I asked Fisher after the season if Bryant's ability to fight through injuries helped push him along through his third consecutive 82-game season last year even if the two are self-motivated, Fisher agreed and added they both study each other's routines and work ethic. He believed that helped set an example for center Andrew Bynum, who fought through torn cartilage in his right knee for much of the postseason.
During the negotiating process, plenty of fans debated Fisher's worth and wondered whether the Lakers truly needed him for another championship run, particularly after they signed Steve Blake to a four-year, $16-million deal. I had often shared the argument that the Lakers should've offered more to Fisher based on his playoff run and clout in the locker room, adding those qualities couldn't be found anywhere else. Bryant also felt the same way. Thanks partly to their relationship, Fisher opted to turn down offers to Miami and stay on the Lakers presumably for the rest of the 36-year-old's career. And if their history proves anything, it that's the relationship between Bryant and Fisher will be instrumental once again toward a title run.Said Fisher: "I have decided to continue with Kobe, continue with our teammates and the fans of Los Angeles."
-- Mark Medina
Photo: Lakers guard Derek Fisher announced Monday that he will remain with the Lakers Credit: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images