Los Angeles Lakers fans will have until now and March 9th, the team’s last home match against the Oklahoma City Thunder, to figure out how to properly fete longtime ex-Laker point guard Derek Fisher. The 39-year old Thunder reserve is retiring after this season, and because Fisher probably doesn’t check off all the boxes needed to have his jersey retired by the team, the 2013-14 regular season might be the best time to show the five-time champion off in dignified style.
Fisher copped to looking ahead to spring as a backup-to-the-backup with the Thunder, hoping to hit the postseason fully healthy after a frustrating 2013 turn that saw the team bounced in the second round with Russell Westbrook watching injured from the sidelines – possibly taking in his sixth ring along the way, one more than Kobe Bryant owns.
Fisher will retire after this season, putting an end to an 18-year career that brought him five NBA championships and becoming the league's second-oldest player behind the Lakers' Steve Nash.
"I rarely use the word never, but I feel like this is a good opportunity to put a cap on a great career," Fisher said in an interview this week with this newspaper. "I think we have a legitimate chance to make a run at the title."
The Thunder do have a very good chance, as they’re tied with San Antonio for the second-best record in the Western Conference despite having to work the recovering Russell Westbrook back into the fold following his meniscus tear last April. The team that finished with the West’s best record in 2012-13 has developed into a top five defensive unit, and sterling play from the team’s bench crops (including guards Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb alongside big men Steven Adams and Nick Collison) has the squad rolling with Westbrook and NBA leading scorer Kevin Durant leading the way.
In Durant and Westbrook, both still just 25 years of age, Fisher sees traits that he once spied in longtime teammate and fellow 1996-97 rookie Kobe Bryant, whom Fisher might be matched up against tonight versus the point guard-less Lakers:
"Kevin has a lot of Kobe's versatility. Kobe is a very versatile player and has all the skills. He can shoot, he can dribble, he can pass, he can defend and he wants to win," Fisher said. "With Russell, I see similarities in the way that Kobe wanted to impose his will on every game. They try to physically dominate so they can attack the game. They have no conscience shooting the ball. They take and make the big shots and they play through their mistakes."
You’ve noticed that Fisher was not included amongst OKC’s superior bench unit. The veteran is shooting just 35 percent from the field and his defense remains as suspect as ever – Fisher averages more fouls per game than he does assists. Stuck at third-string point guard, though, quite a bit has to happen for Derek to hurt the Thunder in their current incarnation, and apparently the off court savvy he provides is enough for the Thunder to get past the fact that he misses 65 percent of his shots.
Following tonight’s Laker trip to Oklahoma City, Fisher will suit up at Staples Center just two more times, providing the Thunder and Lakers don’t meet in this year’s playoffs. Considering Fisher’s impact, and the inglorious way the team decided to part with their former point guard, it would be nice for the team to pack something for D-Fish when he stops by on February 13, and March 9. A rocking chair, a working right hand, a mobility scooter … anything works.
Because come June, Fisher and his Thunder may end up earning the last laugh.
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