For the third time in his long and decorated career, Derek Fisher has requested his release citing family reasons, only to turn up later with a championship-caliber club. Now Fisher joins the Oklahoma City Thunder a little over two months after asking to be released by the Mavericks so he could spend more time with his family in Los Angeles.
This is the time of year when every team with the slightest shot at reaching the NBA Finals looks around and realizes it could use the services of a guy who has been there before. In the Thunder’s case, the defending Western Conference champs settled on the same name for the second straight year. Less than nine months removed from helping the Thunder get to the 2012 Finals, Fisher is back in Oklahoma City for the stretch run, although he may want to temper his expectations.
Fisher’s job will be a bit different this season. Last spring he was an emergency fill-in for Eric Maynor, whose injury left the Thunder without a viable backup point guard. Fisher went on to average 22.3 minutes per game in the playoffs and hit several huge shots to help the Thunder get to the Finals, where they lost the Heat in five games.
Unless Reggie Jackson completely chokes away his opportunity, though, Fisher should not expect as large a role this time around. Yes, the 38-year-old guard has tons of postseason experience, and is the only Laker to have played on every championship-winning team Kobe Bryant has been a part of. But right now he appears to be mostly an insurance policy. Russell Westbrook is playing more minutes than ever, logging a career-high 35.8 minutes per game, leaving limited time for any Thunder backup — much less a third-stringer — to make a mark.
Fisher made no pretense about his departures from Utah in 2007 and Houston in 2012. With the Jazz, Fisher walked away from more than $8 million when he felt that Salt Lake City was too far from his family in L.A., where his daughter was being treated for a rare form of eye cancer. The Rockets were pretty much aware Fisher would never play for them when the traded for him last season. Within days of acquiring him and a first-round pick from the Lakers for Jordan Hill, the Rockets accepted Fisher’s buyout. Two days after that, Fisher signed with Oklahoma City.
Coaches love veteran point guards almost as much as baseball managers love over-the-hill utility players. Fisher has worked his way into the starting lineup wherever he has gone, including earlier this season in Dallas, where he started all nine games he played under Mavs coach Rick Carlisle. Despite never starting more than half his team’s games in his first six seasons, Fisher has now started 62 percent of the games in which he has appeared in his career. In other words, do not count him out of working his way into the Thunder rotation, even if there does not appear to be much room for him now.