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Ball Don't Lie

Derek Fisher could be a Los Angeles Laker again, thanks to a contract misunderstanding

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Derek Fisher lays it in, amongst several current New York Knicks (Getty Images)

He's flirted with the Chicago Bulls (who, legally, can't even sign any players until mid-December as it is) and the Oklahoma City Thunder, but veteran guard Derek Fisher has always seemed like a "Los Angeles or bust"-sorta guy. The roadblock between that eventual destination and the free-agent guard's current status, it was presumed, is the NBA bylaw that states that Fisher can't re-sign with the Los Angeles Lakers until next March, while he technically is being paid for the final year of a 2012-13 he was bought out from last spring, following a deal that sent Fisher to Houston.

Now, ESPN's Marc Stein is reporting, it appears as if the final year of that deal was never able to be latched on to by Fisher and his reps, and as a result he could sign with the Lakers whenever they see fit. If they see fit. He fits, to be sure, but the Lakers aren't sure if he'll actually fit on an already-packed team bus, to say nothing of their monstrous payroll.

First, Stein's take on the machinations that made this all possible:

The NBA's new labor agreement stipulates that a player traded and then waived by the team that acquired him can't re-sign with his original team for one year or until the traded contract runs out -- whichever comes first. But in Fisher's case, confusion surrounding his player option for the 2012-13 season led to the belief in some league circles that he had picked up the option before the Houston Rockets bought him out. In reality, sources confirm, Fisher was bought out by Houston before he was eligible to invoke the 2012-13 option, which means that his contract was deemed to have ended June 30, sending Fisher to full-fledged free agency on July 1.

Fisher is a great guy, a hard worker, and an NBA success story to be admired. But ho-lee cow has this man turned in some sweetheart deals when it comes to working as a free agent. And, for the third time in his career, he could end up on a bench next to a player in Kobe Bryant that he debuted with as a rookie all the way back in 1996.

(Where are you, Travis Knight? Do you have a Twitter?)

The problem for Los Angeles, and potentially Fisher, is that the team is pretty well stacked at point guard. Not only do they boast the all-world talents of Steve Nash in Fisher's former starting spot, but career backups Steve Blake and Chris Duhon are also stuck to the bench. Both are on the trade market, but it's hard to see any team (no matter how desperate) dealing even that infamous conditional second-round pick for the last two years and $8 million on Blake's contract, and Duhon may have played the worst basketball of any player in the NBA last year. That's not us being cruel, Duhon is struggling that much.

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Fisher would be an improvement over Duhon, but in terms of actual on-court production he wouldn't be a massive, startling upgrade.

Derek hasn't turned in a double-digit Player Efficiency Rating (15 is average) since the 2008-09 season, and hasn't shot better than 40 percent from the field since that championship run. His defense, at age 38, is a step slow; though for the third season in a row he has upped his play during the postseason — a postseason that was spent with the Oklahoma City Thunder last spring.

The other issue, frankly, is that the Lakers don't really need Derek right now.

In 2008-09? Sure, his defense was a huge upgrade over Smush Parker's, and he ably controlled the team's varying attempts at sticking to the triangle offense. The Lakers aren't running a strict triple-post in 2012-13, it's safe to say Steve Nash (drafted the same year as Fisher, Bryant, and Travis Knight) doesn't really need any help navigating the waters, and if Fisher and Bryant share a similar mindset, Derek's influence might be a bit superfluous.

Might be. It's always nice to have another big basketball brain hanging around. Especially one that has taken in as much as Fisher has over the last 16 years.

Of course, there's also the whole part about when Los Angeles traded Derek some seven months ago just before the playoffs in what was essentially a payroll-slashing move. Not a salary cap-enhancing move, a payroll-cut. Involving Derek Fisher, five-time champion.

The options, limited though they may be, are there. And with Fisher's declining play, working as an assistant coach of sorts in shorts with the Lakers might be the best and only available option. It seems fitting, if only to ensure Derek doesn't retire as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

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