Thursday, March 29, 2012
Updated: March 30, 7:43 AM ET
PG Derek Fisher returns to L.A.
ESPN.com news services
SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Derek Fisher was in Los Angeles on Thursday participating in a shootaround in preparation for a game Thursday night.
Only this time he was in a high school gym in Santa Monica wearing an Oklahoma City Thunder No. 37 practice jersey, rather than his tried-and-true No. 2 in purple and gold at the Los Angeles Lakers' practice facility in El Segundo.
"First and foremost, I'm just excited to be back in the city and excited to see my friends and brothers, that I considered my teammates, when I was here," Fisher said in a short statement to reporters. "It's only been a couple weeks but it seems so much longer."
Fisher did not take questions from the media at that time but obliged reporters with a longer question-and-answer session before the Thunder played the Lakers at the Staples Center later Thursday evening.
"This city and these fans and everyone that I grew close to over the years, they and this place will always, always hold a very special place in my heart, and that will never change. But, due to a number of different circumstances, I'm in Oklahoma City now and I'm extremely happy to be here," Fisher said.
"This is a very special situation. Just a great group of players, a great group of guys, the staff, the community was just the right fit at the right time coming off what took place. I'm just as happy as I can be considering everything that's gone on. I'm just looking forward to getting out there and playing some basketball tonight in front of what used to be the home crowd. But, coming in as a visitor, I'm sure it will be a lot of fun."
Fisher received a standing ovation before tipoff as highlights of his Lakers career played on the video board, along with a "Thanks for all you've done" message. He stood in his warm-ups and waved to the fans, then applauded them back after being hugged by some of his new teammates, who delivered a 102-93 victory.
"We definitely want to come in and get this win for him," Russell Westbrook said.
Fans got on their feet again when Fisher entered the game with 2:04 remaining in the first quarter. One held up an "I Miss D-Fish" sign.
"The love and support and appreciation they've shown me over the years far exceeded anything I could've imagined when I first moved here in 1996," said Fisher, who finished with seven points in nearly 16 minutes.
After the game, Kobe Bryant addressed Fisher's return, which was his 12th career game against the Lakers.
"I think him coming back for a second stint with us and the championships that we won, it makes it a little bit more special than him coming back with the previous teams," Bryant said.
Bryant and Fisher won five NBA championships together in Fisher's two stints with the Lakers, which were separated by stops in Utah and Golden State.
Bryant added that he didn't watch the video tribute.
"I didn't want to watch it. I didn't want to look at it," he said.
The Lakers' Andrew Bynum was not a fan of the video tribute, saying, "Honestly, I didn't pay attention. I was kind of getting my mojo going. But we all know Fish was a great Laker, and it's sad to see him go, but he's gone. So maybe, I don't think they should have did it."
Fisher shared hugs with ushers and some of the Lakers' training staff as he came on court to shoot 90 minutes before the game. He chatted with former teammate Metta World Peace at midcourt, and a fan held up a hand-lettered sign reading, "Thanks Fish."
"The guy's a winner, and you've got to applaud him for what he's about and who he is," Lakers coach Mike Brown said. "He's been doing it for so many years, so I don't know if you can replace him, per se. But collectively, with some of the veterans we have stepping up, I think it can be done -- maybe not in the same way, but in a different way."
Fisher was dealt from the Lakers, for whom he had played 13 of his 16 seasons, to the Houston Rockets along with a future first-round pick in exchange for forward Jordan Hill at the trade deadline.
"I'm in a good place right now. Initially it was more shock then just pure disappointment," Fisher said in the question-and-answer session before the game. "I've been in this business for a long time and not just for me personally, but for thousands of guys that have played this game, I've always thought that there were different ways to handle trade and waiver situations where there can be some more communication -- not necessarily far in advance, but far enough not to have to find out from the mailman or at the post office that you've been traded. And I'm not saying that that's what happened in this case, but I did wake up and I was traded."
Fisher discounted the notion he was traded because he would be unable to handle a bench role with the Lakers.
"That goes against and flies in the face of not just what I've been since I've been in the NBA, but the type of team player I've been in every group I've ever been a part of," Fisher said. "Team sports raised me in a sense. Besides my mom and dad and my family, I was raised on team sports and that meant and has always stood for sharing, sacrificing, giving of yourself so that the group can succeed.
"So, that's what I'm explicitly focusing on doing for the Thunder now, and I'm looking forward to finishing out this regular season and really trying to help a team that was great before I even showed up."
After arranging a buyout with Houston, Fisher quickly signed with Oklahoma City. He averaged 3.8 points and 1.0 assists on 22.7 percent shooting in his first four games with the Thunder.
"I've moved on. I think obviously the [Lakers'] organization had intentions of moving on and exercised those intentions and had every right to," Fisher said. "I don't place any blame on anyone or the team as a whole. It was fair for them to do what they did, and so now it's time to move on to, for me, hopefully bigger and better things in terms of what can be accomplished. It was strange circumstances, but I tried to make the most of it."
After the game, he added, "Do I enjoy having to kind of piecemeal my family situation together? No. They didn't do me any favors in that regard. In terms of the team, I don't think it's about favors. I think I just made the most out of the circumstances I was placed in, and I'm very happy with the decision I made."
While Fisher's statistical impact has been minor, he's already made a major impression on the Thunder's locker room.
"He's doing a great job for us," Kevin Durant said. "He's leading, being vocal every single day at shootarounds, practice, before and after games. It's big for us. He's helping us out a lot as a veteran presence that we enjoy having in the locker room."
Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks, who played against Fisher at the end of his career, joked that Fisher has regaled the team with fireside chats about his exploits as a Laker.
"It was really cool. Last week he talked about the Spurs shot, the 0.4; that was a neat experience," Brooks said with a smile. "But no, really, he can play. He's not telling stories and not telling us all the great things that he's accomplished in his career, but he's helping us on the court, which I like, and it's what we needed. He's a terrific guy."
That's not to say Fisher's experience in L.A. hasn't been mined already.
Durant, who said Fisher's L.A. homecoming would be similar to when the Thunder first played in Boston after the Kendrick Perkins trade, admitted that Fisher's relationship with Kobe Bryant is something he would like to emulate.
"For myself, him playing alongside Kobe, he was mentoring him a little bit and he can do the same thing for me," Durant said.
Brooks said the coaching staff has picked Fisher's brain about what sets the Lakers run.
"It would be foolish not to," Brooks said. "I've talked to him a little bit but our assistant coaches spent some time with him. We know what they do, they know what we do [but] he does have some insight that he obviously can give us."
Still, everyone on the Thunder's side tried to peg the true importance of Thursday's game on its effect on the standings. After the win, Oklahoma City leads the Western Conference with a 39-12 record. The Lakers are No. 3 at 31-20; they also lost to the Thunder 100-85 in their previous meeting of the season in February.
"My emotions aren't really strange. I've kind of been through this dress rehearsal before a few times with a couple different teams," Fisher said before the game. "So, although it's different, obviously different compared to what I've been through the last 4-5 years, but it's a game. I play for the other team now, and I'm looking forward to getting out there and competing tonight."
ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com's Justin Verrier and The Associated Press contributed to this report.