Derek Fisher is back on the open market. Who wants him? (Getty Images)The Derek Fisher Era is over for the Houston Rockets. There will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth in the Toyota Center and on the ClutchFans boards, I am sure, and no shortage of tributes soundtracked by "I Will Remember You." Weep not for the memories, Rockets fans.
Yahoo! Sports NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski reported Sunday afternoon that the former Los Angeles Lakers point guard, who was traded to the Rockets in a surprise move before last Thursday's trade deadline, had reached a buyout agreement with Houston. The 16-year veteran confirmed the deal Sunday night, with his business manager, Jamie Wior, releasing a statement on his client's behalf:
"After much discussion and expressing their desire to welcome Derek to their team this season as well as the 2012-2013 season, the Houston Rockets and Derek have negotiated a buyout," said Jamie Wior, Fisher's business manager. "Derek's desire to win a sixth championship is what drives him and will continue to drive him as he moves forward. We thank the Houston Rockets front office for their interest, time and their absolute professionalism. There will be no further comment at this time."
OK, so Fisher negotiated a buyout because he wants to win a sixth championship — which I guess means Rockets fans out there shouldn't start airbrushing those "CONGRATULATIONS ON WINNING NBA FINALS MVP, GORAN DRAGIC" T-shirts just yet — and Woj reports that Fisher "will likely have a deal with a contender soon." Let's put on our thinking caps and figure out where he'll end up, shall we?
First thing's first: Fisher won't be ending up back with the Lakers — not this season, at least, and probably not at all, unless he wants to sit out for a full calendar year.
As Woj and others covering the story have noted, a rule instituted in the league's new collective bargaining agreement (which Fisher, as the president of the National Basketball Players Association, helped architect) closed a loophole that would allow players who were traded and subsequently waived to hop right back on a plane and head back to their old squads. The new CBA prevents a traded-then-waived player from re-signing with his original team until either one year after the trade took place or July 1 following the last season of his contract, whichever comes first.
While it's been widely reported that Fisher could head back to L.A. as of July 1, 2012, his contract actually runs through the end of the 2012-13 season — he's got a $3.4 million player option for next year, according to the ShamSports.com salary database, which may well have been one of the primary reasons the Lakers moved him. As a result, the July 1 that'd be relevant for Fisher returning to L.A. would be 2013, not 2012. That means that one full year from the trade date — March 15, 2013 — is the earliest Fisher could rejoin the Lakers. Considering Fisher's nearly 38 years old, has almost 1,400 NBA games on his odometer and is talking about winning another chip now, it seems unlikely that he'd be willing to wait that long to re-up.
Fisher's veteran leadership has value, but can he still keep up? (Getty Images)If not the Lakers, then who? Looking out east for starters, ESPN.com's Marc Stein tweeted Monday morning that Fisher's very interested in heading to the Eastern Conference for the first time in his career to join either the Chicago Bulls or Miami Heat.
The two East-leading squads may have interest in importing a veteran point guard with playoff experience behind starters Derrick Rose and Mario Chalmers to upgrade their backup slots, but while Fisher's kept himself in great shape late in his career, it's difficult to see him being able to provide the kind of consistent shot-making and attack-dog defense on opposing point guards that coaches Tom Thibodeau and Erik Spoelstra would want to see out of their second-unit triggerman in a perfect world. Then again, worlds aren't perfect when you're relying on rookies and journeymen reserves in lockout-shortened seasons, which is why the rumored mutual interest would make sense.
Beyond the East's top two teams, there don't seem to be a ton of natural fits for Fisher if he's looking to take another deep postseason run. The New York Knicks will ride Jeremy Lin and Baron Davis (Lord help us all), Fisher wouldn't seem to represent an upgrade over the Atlanta Hawks' combo of Jeff Teague and Kirk Hinrich, and the Philadelphia 76ers look to be all set with Jrue Holiday, Lou Williams and the emergent Evan Turner handling the rock. And while Chris Duhon is pretty far from a world-beater, something about the optics of that move doesn't seem to make sense for the Orlando Magic — "Thanks for giving us another year to figure it out, Dwight. Look, we got you Derek Fisher!"
Given their mix of roster and financial flexibility and their relative lack of proven postseason performers, the Indiana Pacers could make some sense, but I'm not sure I see why Frank Vogel would play Derek Fisher over George Hill or Darren Collison. And while "bought-out old guy goes to Beantown" is about as reliable an NBA meme as there is these days, the Boston Celtics' biggest need is in the frontcourt, not behind Rajon Rondo. Plus, the thought of Fisher in Celtics green ... it's kind of unseemly, right? Most likely, if Fish can't catch on with Chicago or Miami, he'll stay out west.
Working south to north in the Western Conference playoff standings, Fisher's already nixed Houston, the Denver Nuggets have the Ty Lawson-Andre Miller combo at the lead guard and the defending champion Dallas Mavericks have in-house options to trigger the offense behind Jason Kidd, especially with Rodrigue Beaubois in fine form for much of the past month and Delonte West soon to return from a broken finger.
The Los Angeles Clippers say they're out on Fisher, according to Stein, and as we've described above, the Lakers are definitely out. ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne says the San Antonio Spurs might be interested despite finalizing an agreement with former Portland Trail Blazers guard Patty Mills this weekend, but if R.C. Buford and company can get Mills' contractual issues ironed out, there might not be enough minutes available for Fisher at the AT&T Center.
One intriguing fit could be the Memphis Grizzlies, who find themselves in the No. 5 hole out west, have just welcomed low-post linchpin Zach Randolph back from injury and could surely use an upgrade over the combination of Jeremy Pargo and Josh Selby behind starting point guard Mike Conley. The Grizzlies would have to do some maneuvering, as they're already over the luxury tax with the salaries they're presently paying, but if Chris Wallace could see his way toward making that manipulation work and he could get Fisher on-board with a deal for the prorated veteran minimum, it could be a marriage of need and fit. There hasn't been any scuttlebutt connecting the two sides thus far, though.
That leaves one Western Conference playoff squad, of course, and you'd have to figure it'd be a pretty appealing one for Fisher. In Monday's Oklahoman, Darnell Mayberry makes a case for the Oklahoma City Thunder taking a "one-year flier on Fisher" to stabilize the backup point guard position, which has been a trouble spot for OKC since Eric Maynor tore the ACL in his right knee back in January:
For 15 seasons, Fisher has given his teams toughness, durability, clutch shooting, lockdown defense and first-rate leadership and professionalism. The Thunder could use every one of those traits now and when the playoffs start in the near future.
Stein tweeted Monday morning that the Thunder are "weighing whether to make a formal bid to sign" Fisher; if Sam Presti thinks Fisher can help his club get past the Western Conference finals this year and improve its chances of winning the franchise's first title as the Thunder, he'll do it.
That's the thing, though — um, why would he do it?
Derek Fisher has the ninth-worst Player Efficiency Rating among NBA point guards this year. This is his third straight year with a PER under 10; the league average is 15. He's hitting less than 39 percent of his shots, less than one-third of his 3-pointers and he's turning the ball over about 18 percent of the time, a rate significantly higher than at any point since the 1998-99 season. Opposing point guards have been outperforming him by seven points and three assists per 48 minutes of action.
One might say that he's just not that good anymore; another, like our Fearless Leader, might also say that he "has been absolutely brutal on both sides of the ball over the last two seasons for Los Angeles." Signing that guy is the move that's going to put you over the top? When you can (and should) let James Harden play the Manu Ginobili role when Russell Westbrook needs to go off the ball, when you just spent a first-rounder on Reggie Jackson, when Kevin Durant can do evil things to defenses all by himself? It doesn't seem to make a ton of sense, especially if the vaunted veteran leadership/chemistry effect of bringing Fisher into the locker room doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot when he's never played with Oklahoma City's guys before.
Mayberry isn't wrong when he extols the virtues Fisher has displayed over the course of his career, especially come playoff time. Nor is he wrong to suggest that a young team like OKC could benefit from all of those traits, and maybe leadership and professionalism can overcome even this glaring a talent and performance deficit.
But the deficit is most definitely there, and anyone expecting a 37-year-old who misses more than six in 10 of his field goals and can't stay in front of the guys he'd be defending in the playoffs to all of a sudden start heating up and locking down is banking on story rather than sense. Derek Fisher may well end up with a contender in time to make a postseason run. Just don't expect him to be getting very much run this postseason.