At age 37, veteran NBA point guard Derek Fisher is starting over.
After winning five NBA titles in two stints with the Los Angeles Lakers–with brief stretches with the Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors in between–Fisher was in full control of his own destiny after the free agency frenzy last week. The 16-year veteran was able employ the same savvy business acumen that allowed him to lead the NBA Players Association against the league and its owners during the lockout, choosing to sign with the Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder in a quest for his sixth NBA championship.
The signing came almost a week after the Lakers traded him to Houston–he subsequently bought out his contract instead of playing with the Rockets. The veteran point guard, who spent 13 of his 16 NBA seasons with the Lakers, decided to surrender his entire salary next season to secure the buyout with an opportunity to select a contender to join down the stretch. OKC and the Miami Heat made strong bids for Fisher in a chance to add a veteran leader with championship pedigree to their roster. The Heat, who could only offer the veteran minimum salary, were outbid by the Thunder, who were able to offer D.Fish a portion of their $3 million midlevel exception for a one-year deal.
The deal marks the second time in his career that he’s left a significant amount of money on the table to facilitate a move he wanted. In 2007, Fisher gave up roughly $8 mill owed by the Jazz to return to his beloved Lakers-–where he began his career alongside Kobe Bryant in 1996–so his family could be closer to doctors who were treating his daughter for a rare form of eye cancer.
Fisher now joins the NBA’s two-time scoring champion Kevin Durant and rising superstar Russell Westbrook. The veteran, who picked jersey number 37 for his age, now moves into a role of mentor and contributor off the bench. On Wednesday night, Fisher made his OKC debut and scored five points in 19 minutes in a Thunder 114-91 rout of the Los Angeles Clippers. The Thunder lost their backup point guard, Eric Maynor, to a season-ending knee injury in January, which left their All-Star point guard Westbrook to play a ton of minutes as the starter. OKC rookie Reggie Jackson, who has took over for Maynor, will now be relegated to the bench as Fisher is expected to make a sudden impact.
Fisher has averaged 8.7 points and 3.1 assists during his career and has played in 209 playoffs games in 13 trips to the postseason. His high basketball IQ and experience in pressure situations automatically place the Thunder as favorites coming out of the West. OKC hold the league’s third-best record, behind Miami and Chicago, and will look to lock up the top-seed in the West heading into the playoffs.
On Wednesday night, Kobe told reporters after the Lakers’ victory against defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, that he relishes the day he and Fisher will meet center court, stating that he’ll “demolish him.” The Black Mamba may be out for blood but Fisher is out to one-up Kobe in the ring category this year. Fisher’s shot at redemption will tip-off next week, when the Lakers and Thunder face off on Thursday night on a TNT nationally televised doubleheader.