Monday, July 12, 2010
Fisher returns to Lakers
By Ramona Shelburne
Derek Fisher has decided to stay with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Credit Kobe Bryant with the assist.
"I have decided to continue with Kobe, continue with our teammates and the fans of Los Angeles," Fisher said in a statement on his website. "While this may not be the most lucrative contract I've been offered this offseason, it is the most valuable. I am confident I will continue to lead this team on and off the court. Let the hunt for six begin."
NBA sources said Fisher's contract is for three years for $10.5 million with a player option for a third year.
The Lakers have won two straight titles and five in Fisher's tenure with the team. He gets a three-year deal to return, with a player option on the final year.
The Lakers improved their offer a number of times during negotiations, with Fisher deciding to stay around noon PT on Monday, a source said.
The Lakers were waiting for the deal to be completed before announcing anything.
"Nothing is signed yet," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said. "We're in continuous dialogue with [Fisher's] representative and we hope to announce something soon."
Fisher, 35, had been courted by the Miami Heat. He met with Miami president Pat Riley and owner Micky Arison at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Miami on Saturday morning where the Heat told him it wanted him to be its starting point guard and to join LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
"I took time to consider all my options, many not reported in the media," Fisher said. "I listened to every coach, every general manager, even potential teammates in order to make the right decision and I thank every one of them. At the end of the day, there's one person I could not turn away from.
"Kobe Bryant asked me to stay but supported whatever decision I made. He and I have played together for 11 seasons, came into the league together as kids, and has been loyal to me even when others had doubts. We have won five championships together."
The Lakers had been in constant contact with Fisher and his representative Rob Pelinka since the free-agent negotiating period opened on July 1, although negotiations had proceeded slowly but amicably.
Los Angeles lost free agent Jordan Farmar to New Jersey on Monday, but signed Steve Blake last week. Blake likely will share playing time with Fisher.
Fisher likely isn't bluffing about larger offers from other teams. The Lakers' payroll already is stretched to the limit of the salary cap with the rest of Los Angeles' veteran core signed to multiyear contracts, including Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Ron Artest and Lamar Odom.
But Fisher decided he valued winning and consistency over a late-career cash grab -- and the other time he left the Lakers for a big-money deal, he endured two miserable seasons in Golden State and one better year in Utah before returning to the Lakers in 2007.
Fisher first joined the Lakers in 1996, when Jerry West drafted the unsung guard from Arkansas-Little Rock and the franchise nurtured him into a consistent playmaker and occasional scorer. Since his return to Hollywood, he has started every regular-season game for the Lakers over the past three seasons.
Fisher averaged 7.5 points and 2.5 assists last year. Although he sometimes struggles against quicker point guards, Fisher still has the veteran guile and poise necessary to perform at important moments -- and that's the quality Bryant values most in his longtime teammate.
"We've got to have him back," Bryant said last month shortly after the Lakers' victory parade. "Fish knows we need him, and we know we've got to keep him."
Fisher raised his game in the postseason, starting all 23 games and averaging 10.3 points and 2.8 assists to help the Lakers win their second straight title. He was particularly effective in the Western Conference semifinals against Utah's Deron Williams, and he largely matched the efforts of veteran Steve Nash in the conference finals against the Phoenix Suns.
Fisher's return means the most significant parts of the Lakers' championship roster will return this fall. Kupchak now must hunt for bargains and unsung players to fill in the gaps on his bench, which wasn't particularly deep last season.
Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.