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Shaun Powell

Derek Fisher
Derek Fisher meets the media after a negotiating session in New York.
Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images

Standing tall in labor fray will serve Fisher well in future


Posted Oct 14 2011 10:02AM - Updated Oct 15 2011 12:47AM

Derek Fisher wears a sharp-looking suit to work these days strictly out of temporary necessity. At the moment, he is not exactly a symbol of affection for NBA owners. But when this labor fight is long over and grudges have long been settled, Fisher could find himself aligned with the very same people he's now aggravating.

Put it this way: If Fisher's stint as president of the players' union is unintentionally serving as an audition for a front office job, it's working. At least that's the view from the outside.

He's got all the qualifications. Leadership? Well, yeah, he's currently getting some valuable experience there, although many will say Fisher's always carried a healthy amount of respect among his brotherhood. He's versed on basketball issues, appears to have a grasp of negotiating skill and comes across well in public. When you add his 14-plus years in the game, spent on five championship teams and a bunch of struggling teams, his knowledge of players and coaches is unimpeachable. When NBA.com, in our annual general manager survey, asked GMs which active player would make the best head coach someday, Fisher finished first in each of the past two years.

So, what's not for an owner to like? Putting aside, of course, his stance in these negotiations.

Fisher might be the only person who'll come out a winner here, the only one who won't emerge a bit bloodied from the fight, the only one who'll escape the public's wrath. At some point he'll go back to earning a nice NBA paycheck and then become a front-office candidate based partly, if not mostly, from his role in this labor fight.

He'll become the Mark Jackson of general managers, a guy awarded a plum job without going through the usual grunt work first. Fisher, maybe unlike Jackson, doesn't need the benefit of TV to show owners how smart he is.

At the last labor fight, which resulted in a 50-game schedule, the owners received a constant and piercing scowl from the one and only Alonzo Mourning. But today we see Zo sitting comfortably in the Heat's front office and by all accounts doing a swell job, evidently forgiven by Micky Arison, no hard feelings.

And Michael Jordan? Remember his taunt of Wizards owner Abe Pollin in the heat of the labor battle? "Sell your team," yelled MJ. Well, years later, the owner did, selling a share to Jordan. And now Jordan, after gaining control of the Bobcats, is an owner himself.

So there is precedent.

(The only union leader who didn't come out ahead with the owners, and should have, was Oscar Robertson, never given the chance to run or coach a team after he retired.)

Whether you believe Fisher and Billy Hunter are right or wrong in these negotiations, you must admire Fisher for being steadfast in his convictions, thorough in his communications with players and dogged in his quest for a deal. The players couldn't have a better representative for what is mostly a thankless job, one that doesn't even pay.

Fisher has always been a soothing and steadying figure, someone who helped bridge a gap between feuding superstars on the Lakers and remains very captain-like even as his skills decline at age 37. Who else could calmly sink a jumper with 0.4 seconds left to win a big playoff game?

His even-keeled approach is exactly what is needed in these high-stakes, high-pressured, sometimes high-tempered negotiations, where it's not too uncommon for someone to be told, in so many words, to shove it. This will come in handy one day when Fisher is staring down an agent who demands $8 million a season, and not a penny less, for a backup center with stone hands and molasses footwork.

Remember, bad general managing is the main reason for this lockout; owners incensed at being stuck with deals made by their top employees. If nothing else, many will walk away from these labor negotiations knowing Fisher drives a hard bargain and, just like on the court, doesn't fold easily.

These are indeed impressive times for a late first-round pick who wasn't projected to be anything more than a career backup, who isn't blessed with out-of-this-world skills or physical ability, who made a habit of raising his game in the postseason and who's courageous enough to tell his more-famous teammate on the Lakers when he's wrong. Fisher has earned his stripes, and he continues to do so out of uniform.

Fearing punishment from the league office, GMs and coaches refused to comment about Fisher for this story, although pre-lockout, the reviews were nothing short of spectacular for Fisher and what he's meant to the Lakers. It will be hard, some of them said, for him to emerge from the labor fight as the bad guy. Even in the eyes of the owners.

They know Fisher is just doing his job, one that's preparing him quite well for the next one.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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