- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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No less an authority than Kobe Bryant announced this week that he's convinced longtime teammate Derek Fisher will not have to wait forever to remove himself from the list of free agents still looking for work.
"I'm pretty confident," Kobe says, "he'll find a team."
It might even be the Los Angeles Lakers, in extreme circumstances, if more dominoes fall fortuitously for the team that has already annoyed the rest of the league with all of its good dominoes fortune this past offseason.
It's not feasible for the Lakers to bring back Fisher now, because league rules preclude them from signing a player traded away and then waived (in this case by Houston) for one year after the original deal. Which means March 15, 2013, is the earliest Fisher could legally re-sign with L.A.
Yet sources with knowledge of the Lakers' thinking say that the team is already trying to create a backcourt opening, having made it clear to the rest of the league that Chris Duhon and Steve Blake are available via trade to any interested party willing to absorb one of those contracts.
While it's true that no trade is imminent in either case, that's also the norm in October when outlooks are still rosy in pretty much every NBA training camp and teams generally aren't ready to move. Could the Lakers eventually find a taker for one of those vets? Blake has one season left on his contract after this one valued at $4 million, but Duhon's $3.75 million salary in 2013-14 is unguaranteed, which makes his contract a more attractive acquisition.
The bigger question is whether Fisher, at 38, is prepared to wait around into the spring to see if the Lakers would have a suitable need for him or if it's wiser to join the first contender that comes calling.
It's believed that both Fisher and fellow vet free agent Kenyon Martin were in no rush to sign anything in this guaranteed-dollars-are-scarce marketplace, figuring that an early-season injury suffered by an elite team could change the landscape in a hurry. Yet it would take a considerable amount of patience from Fisher if he's intent on holding out for the Lakers.
It should be noted, though, that Bryant's fellow alumnus from the NBA draft class of 1996 returned from his brief stint with the Oklahoma City Thunder late last season to train for much of the offseason at both the Lakers' and Clippers' practice facilities. That's even after the Lakers felt they had to move Fisher out in March as part of the various trade-deadline machinations that brought Jordan Hill and Ramon Sessions to town.
"Every team," Kobe announced Wednesday, "needs a guard like him."
Along with Fish and K-Mart, any list of the most established names yet to be signed in free agency would have to include Gilbert Arenas, Leandro Barbosa, Josh Howard, Mehmet Okur, Mickael Pietrus and Michael Redd.
Correction: The original version of this post suggested that Fisher could re-sign with the Lakers immediately. But he is not actually eligible to return until March 15, 2013, because he was waived by the team (Houston) that originally acquired him from L.A.