LOS ANGELES – Derek Fisher smiled while taking a peek inside the door of the Los Angeles Lakers' locker room shortly after his arrival at Staples Center. He failed in his attempt Thursday night to hide bitterness from his emotional trade from the Lakers, but the man now known as "Uncle Fish" appears happy with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
And for good reason. He gave the Thunder a lift off the bench in the first half and got a front-row seat to Russell Westbrook's brilliance in the third quarter, when the NBA All-Star scored 17 of his game-high 36 points in Oklahoma City's 102-93 victory against Los Angeles. Oklahoma City is 5-0 since signing Fisher.
"I think the door was shut pretty hard in terms of how [the trade] happened," Fisher said. "Obviously, the team felt they needed to move on. I have as well."
If Michael Cooper and Byron Scott have yet to get their Lakers jerseys retired, it's doubtful that Fisher will. Even so, Fisher left a strong impression with Laker fans with his five championships alongside Kobe Bryant, big shots and community work in 13 seasons.
Fisher expected his respected tenure in Los Angeles to carry weight. While there were rumors that the Lakers wanted a younger and more offensive-minded point guard, he was never told that by management. The Lakers did get the younger point guard they coveted in Ramon Sessions via trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers on March 15. But Los Angeles shocked Fisher and its fans by dealing him to the Houston Rockets for reserve big man Jordan Hill and a first-round pick.
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Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak viewed the moves as one deal – "one wouldn't have worked without the other." (Moving Fisher clears $3.4 million off the books this summer which can be used in re-signing Sessions.)
"I was just talking to another general manager and he thought getting the ball-handling guard that we got was a good move that was going to help us in the future," Kupchak said. "My immediate response was it was a high price to pay, which was the case. But those are tough decisions that management has to make and we're hopeful it will work out down the road."
Fisher says the Lakers should have given him notice.
"I've always thought there are different ways to handle trades and waiver-type situations where there can be some more communication – not necessarily far in advance but enough not to have to find out from the mailman or at the post office that you've been traded," Fisher said. "And I'm not saying that's what happened in this case, but I did wake up and I was traded. That's the part that shocks you more than anything."
Fisher also took offense to a perception that he couldn't have handled being a reserve.
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After being waived by Houston, Fisher said he had inquiries from five teams, including the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls. The 37-year-old opted to play behind Westbrook, a Los Angeles native who grew up watching Fisher. With nine players on the active roster born after 1985, Oklahoma City certainly needed some veteran help.
Thunder center Kendrick Perkins also welcomed a voice in the locker room bigger than his.
"He's won five rings," Perkins said. "Now I can kind of shut up around here and listen to him."
With three NBA Finals appearances since 2008, the Lakers are so experienced that Fisher's voice might have sounded like Charlie Brown's teacher. But after a win over the Heat last Sunday, Fisher told his new teammates that the Lakers lost two straight after beating the same Eastern Conference power. The Thunder listened.
"He's a real professional and knows how to prepare himself for different things," Westbrook said. "I just sit back and watch."
Guard Royal Ivey gave Fisher the name "Uncle Fish" during shootaround prior to Tuesday's victory in Portland.
"I guess it's going to stick now," Ivey said.
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Once the Thunder arrived in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Fisher immediately went home to spend time with his wife, Candace, and four children whom he had not seen since the trade.
Upon his arrival at Staples Center, Fisher was treated like a legend. One reporter kissed him on the cheek after he did a pregame media address in the hallway outside the Thunder's locker room. A janitor gave him a pound. Fans wore his old Lakers jersey and held signs of appreciation. After the starting lineups were announced, the Lakers showed a video tribute with Fisher highlights. The message: "Thanks For All You Have Done Fish."
The crowd and both teams then gave a standing ovation.
"The fans here and the people here in the city and this community, regardless of where I play, will always have a very special place in my heart regardless to whether they applaud me or boo me because I'm on the other team," Fisher said.
The Lakers jumped to a 30-18 lead. Fisher played a big role in stabilizing Oklahoma City by scoring all seven of his points in the second quarter to help trim the Lakers' lead to 49-44 at halftime. Westbrook then took over with his dramatic third quarter, which was capped by a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
"Derek did a tremendous job here with the Lakers," Westbrook said. "We just wanted to come out here and get this win for him."
Even Candace Fisher basked in her husband's spotlight as she walked around the floor with actress Tamala Jones early in the fourth quarter, shaking hands and hugging fans and ushers courtside. With the Thunder up comfortably 92-77 with 5:48 left in the game, Fisher and Bryant chatted briefly. Fisher checked out of the game for good with 4:07 left while many Lakers fans were exiting too.
As the buzzer sounded, Fisher walked toward the Lakers' bench in hopes of sharing some hugs and handshakes. The dejected Lakers turned their backs and walked off the floor.
"As a teammate, as a friend, as a person who we shared many battles with, I told him it's weird not to have him around," Lakers forward Pau Gasol said. "But obviously, we wish him the best."
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