With Derek Fisher’s long and successful playing career drawing to a close, he’ll naturally be looking toward new opportunities. The Los Angeles Lakers would be wise to consider luring him back for a front-office position.
Fisher isn’t quite ready for retirement yet. He’s currently in his 18th season in the NBA, averaging 5.4 points in 17.4 minutes off the bench for the Oklahoma City Thunder. The durable point guard has appeared in every game so far this season.
And, he’d like one more shot at a ring before he hangs them up. Like his good friend and former teammate Kobe Bryant, D-Fish has won five NBA Championships, all of them with the Lakers.
During a wide-ranging interview with Mark Medina of The Los Angeles Daily News this past December, Fisher reflected on the end of the road as a player: "I rarely use the word never, but I feel like this is a good opportunity to put a cap on a great career.”
Fish also spoke about this year’s final quest, comparing it to those in the past with Bryant.
In some ways, I can't even fathom winning championships and looking up and not seeing him right there. It's hard to even have that kind of conversation. But at the same time, we'll feel very driven to try to be on a championship team again before our career is over.
It was an interesting choice to use the word “we." Could there be one more partnership between two friends who came into the league together as rookies with the Lakers in 1996? One that involves working together but not necessarily playing together?
Fisher has already had considerable experience in basketball matters off the court, as the president of the NBA players association from 2006-13, including the rocky 2011 lockout and the process of reaching a new collective bargaining agreement.
Per the Medina interview, he’s not yet sure what life after playing will be all about, but he isn’t intending on a life of leisure:
I'm not going to want to necessarily just sit around the house, but I'll take a step back from the grind of the NBA schedule and see where my heart and passion takes me. I want to take a step back right after retiring from playing and see through conversations, meetings and discussions what would fit the best.
One of those fits could include reuniting with a familiar figure with whom he and Bryant share common history. In an article for USA Today, Jeff Zillgett suggests that Fisher could wind up working for Phil Jackson, the new president of the New York Knicks, “either as a coach or front-office executive.”
That has since been denied by a guy who’s still trying to concentrate on getting that sixth championship as a player. Per Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, Fisher spoke about his current on-court focus, while dismissing any direct conversations about a role with the Knicks:
“I think I’ve been pretty consistent with not really having that decided in terms of what’s next, absolutely.”
Not "absolutely"? That’s not exactly shutting the door, is it?
The last vestiges of Bryant’s teammate connections to his championship days have all but disappeared. Pau Gasol is heading into free agency, and it appears increasingly likely that his playing days in Los Angeles are over.
Soon, Bryant will be an island—the last of the Laker champions to still wear purple and gold. He’s also heading into a potential summer of discontent as the team begins an almost total-roster rebuild.
The last time the Lakers were going through such a seismic shift was the summer of 2007, when a frustrated Bryant spoke with Stephen A. Smith on ESPN Radio (transcript via ESPN), saying, “I would like to be traded.”
The first concrete action that Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak took at that time was to bring Fisher back as a player—this after the point guard had spent three seasons with both the Golden State Warriors and the Utah Jazz.
And, the championships once again arrived, presided over by Jackson, the "Zen Master" coach.
Those halcyon days are long gone now, with recent seasons growing ever more dismal. The Lakers are currently staring at a 25-51 record, with six games left on the books.
Jackson, meanwhile, is getting ready to put together the pieces for his latest puzzle, and if history is any indication, he will do as he has always done—reaching out to those he’s worked with in the past.
How will it all end, and where will it go from here?
Fisher will play this season out with one of the Western Conference’s true powerhouses, lending veteran leadership and shotmaking ability to the Thunder as they roll into the playoffs
Gasol will likely land one last big contract as he tries for another title—somewhere else.
And Bryant, with a two-year contract extension in hand, will watch from a distance, rehabbing his fractured knee throughout the coming summer and preparing for his final journey with a team that has essentially been stripped to the core.
Can Lakers executive vice president Jim Buss finally get one right? He already let Jackson slip away to New York. And there the owner of 13 rings will build a new empire, likely using parts from his previous successes.
Any smart business person would do that.
Will Buss continue to preside over isolated islands in the sun, or will he extend a hand to Fisher, using a playbook from the past?
There is no shame in returning to what has worked before. Fisher, a battle-tested veteran, would be an ally to Bryant and would also be able to take a big picture view toward rebuilding an organization that has badly faltered.
And if not as a front-office exec, what about working from the sideline? If P-Jax would consider his one-time floor general as a coach, why wouldn't Buss?
If a point guard could help broker an agreement between players and owners in one of the most acrimonious labor struggles in recent history, he can help rebuild a team that is not so far removed from its championship days.
Those are the championship days that he himself was a major part of.
Should the Lakers recruit Derek Fisher for a front-office or coaching position? It’s not a question of “if” but rather just how quickly they can move, once this horrific season is over.
Or has Buss, the notoriously reclusive current head of basketball operations, become so resistant to anything or anyone associated with Jackson’s approval, he will automatically head in an opposite direction in an effort to prove his own independent wisdom?
Don’t allow your ego to be a detriment to the greater good, Jim.
And don’t let another opportunity slip away.