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We're not going to frame this as if Derek Fisher is set to be the difference between either the Oklahoma City Thunder taking the championship, or the Miami Heat securing their first ring under LeBron James' rule. The OKC guard and five-time champion with the Los Angeles Lakers has performed better in this postseason than he did in his last few with the Lakers, and especially better than in this year's tough regular season, but he's still a bit slow on defense and offering an assist rate (10 percent of the possessions he uses up end in dimes) that is just a tick ahead of OKC off guard Thabo Sefolosha.
Still, it's been a nice turnaround for Fisher, in spite of the fact that we think Thunder coach Scott Brooks plays him a bit too much (21 minutes a contest). And, to hear Fisher tell it, he could have been plying this particular trade on the Miami Heat, were it not for a decision he made after the Houston Rockets released him last March, and after Miami prez Pat Riley made it known that Fisher's services might be better utilized elsewhere. From Ben Golliver at CBS Sports:
"Pat is a straight shooter," Fisher said. "He let us know that they were looking more so for a big guy and that they were happy with the play of Chalmers and Norris Cole. Those two guys are doing a great job for them. It made sense to me."
Fisher said that he communicated "directly" with Heat president Pat Riley and that his agent was also involved in talks.
"It's always serious," he said of the conversations. "I take it seriously. It just wasn't a fit at that time for the team. As I went through the process, I learned that [the Thunder] would be a better fit for me from a number of different perspectives."
This is one aspect of the NBA's personnel back and forth that rubs a lot of people the wrong way. How a player, at the three-quarter mark of the season, can essentially choose his own destiny and glom onto whatever championship hopeful he digs the most.
There's a problem with this?
It's unlike any other sport, save for the rare showdown we saw last year between Lance Berkman and the St. Louis Cardinals, when the then-struggling Cards nearly dealt Berkman to the Texas Rangers squad St. Louis would eventually face in that year's World Series. You don't get this much in baseball, even with that late-summer waiver wire, and you certainly don't get it in football despite the nature of that sport's unguaranteed contracts.
In basketball, though? If a middling team wants to do a veteran a favor, and allow him to give money back for the right to choose his own destiny? Why not? It's his money! It's his destiny! This is his hill, and those are his beans!
And though we respect the heck out of players like Fisher, Sam Cassell, Troy Murphy and P.J. Brown (vets who have made these late-season moves over the last few years), these weren't players that significantly altered things for the teams they joined. Every year -- whether you're breathlessly checking your feed or choice of ticker to see where a recently released vet will go, or damning the transaction as something that is terribly wrong with the NBA — this is only fodder for late winter. Nothing more, usually forgotten by June save for the odd column like this.
It's still kind of cool, though. It's nice that a great team like the Thunder, missing backup guard Eric Maynor with an ACL tear, could find a competent backup like Fisher on the fly. Even if Derek didn't have a ring to his name, or Pat Riley on his mobile dial.
We rightfully gave the NBA quite a bit of stick for last year's lockout. How it was pitched in order to save the owners from themselves, owners that immediately went out and splurged on free agents and seller's market moves in this and (presumably) the next offseason, carrying on in the same fashion. There are some quirks to the NBA's system, situations that wouldn't force a possible game-saver like Fisher to waste his last few 2011-12 weeks on a lottery team (admittedly, as it has been for years, one of the "best" lottery teams) in Houston.
It makes great teams slightly better, assuming they use (and don't overuse) the new additions properly. And, most importantly, it trades a bit of hemming and hawing in February or March for great basketball in May and June.
That's a fair trade off, NBA. Keep it up.
And enjoy sticking that corner three in front of the Heat's bench, Derek.