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Scott Howard-Cooper

Could this be the last of D.Fish in purple and gold?
Evan Gole/NBAE via Getty Images

Fisher wants to return to Lakers, but it's not a lock

Posted Jul 3 2010 12:44PM

The call went out on schedule, just as the doors flew open for free-agent shopping on Wednesday night/Thursday morning. The Lakers reached out to Derek Fisher's representative, as expected, to say they hoped their starting point guard and emotional rock would stay for the attempted three-peat.

No surprises, no negotiating tricks. Fisher wants to stay and the Lakers want him to stay, and that's that. The relationship is too deep for either to get all poker-face now.

But his return is not an automatic, as Fisher realizes and the Lakers know all too well as they look to rollback salaries, potentially all the way up the food chain to coach Phil Jackson. Already the Los Angeles Times is reporting the team wants him somewhere around $2.5 million next season and that Fisher is thinking closer to the $5 million of 2009-10. So this could get interesting.

In the opening hours of a league-wide free-agency process filled with wild speculation, the certainties are that Fisher feels his future in L.A. has become a better bet now that top fan Jackson has announced his return as coach and that Fisher has no interest of easing into semi-retirement in a wise-sage role. He will be 36 at the start of camp, wants to actually play and feels he still can a high level, and give Fish this much: He has a good read on this. Early last season, he acknowledged all the doubters who expected him to break down and be unable to make an impact in the playoffs, he said they were going to be waiting a long time for that because it wasn't going to happen in May or June of 2010. And he was right.

That essentially removes one intriguing possibility if the relationship with the Lakers did come to an unlikely end -- Oklahoma City. The franchise wants to add without major spending, Fisher would be playing about 350 miles from his hometown of Little Rock, Ark., he could still be in the playoffs, he would be on a roster that more than anything needs his years of experience, and he would be an ideal fit in a locker room that puts a priority on character. He could even accept backing up Russell Westbrook.

But the Thunder have Westbrook and Eric Maynor, the No. 20 pick just a year ago. Fisher wants to play, not serve as some Yoda behind the scenes. Kevin Ollie had the role last season as experienced point guard and locker-room presence and averaged 10.5 minutes in the regular season and got five total minutes in the first-round loss to the Lakers. Fisher has no interest in retiring to pseudo-assistant coach.

Orlando is an interesting alternative, and realistic in every way. It just so happens that Fisher stepped on the Magic's throat about this time last year with a pair of late buckets in Game 4 that helped turn the championship toward Los Angeles. That's as close as they got to a title... and now he's the guy who may be seen as being able to help them get closer. Rich.

Jameer Nelson is the starter, but backups Jason Williams and Anthony Johnson are both free agents. The Magic obviously need someone in that role. Someone, preferably, with a track record of making a difference in the playoffs. Someone, ideally, who knows how to command respect and get in the face of teammates with much bigger contracts.

For truly intriguing, for the consideration that would make blood boil, for the thought that would test the loyalties of a very passionate fan base:


From the Jazz perspective, no bridges have been permanently burned from the strange breakup, when Fisher asked to be let out of his contract to seek employment where his daughter could get treatment for eye cancer, late owner Larry Miller let it happen, and Fisher signed to return to the Lakers. Miller wasn't naïve, but chose to listen to his human side over his business side and give Fisher the benefit of the doubt. Fans, not so much. They turned Fisher into a despised figure, thinking he used his daughter's serious illness to get back to L.A., and in some cases went from angry to classless, the way a few people inside EnergySolutions Arena shouted at Fisher while holding a hand over one eye during the conference semifinals. Even some Lakers personnel who thought they had seen it all were shocked.

Imagine if the Jazz bid for Fisher to shore up point guard behind Deron Williams. They don't consider that the offseason priority, and still have Ronnie Price, so maybe it doesn't happen. But the team is open to the possibility.

Fisher isn't nearly as willing. If he doesn't rule it out, people familiar with his thinking know it would be very difficult to sign with the Jazz, not because of the franchise he respects but because of the fans. It's just too hard to imagine his wife and kids coming to games.

There's a good chance it's all moot, of course. All three Lakers point guards -- Fisher, Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar -- are free agents, they need someone there, and it might as well be the guy that has delivered titles and shown he can handle the big moments. Plus, Kobe Bryant has spoken up for retaining Fisher in a way that Bryant rarely, if ever, has for another player. It probably gets done at a compromise dollar amount, without the negotiating tricks or surprises.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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