Oklahoma City Thunder guard Derek Fisher easily had his best game as a member of his fourth and most recent NBA team on Thursday, contributing seven points on 3-6 shooting off the bench for the Thunder in their 102-93 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. And because it was Fisher's first game in Los Angeles since the team traded him earlier in March, the Lakers put together a classy video tribute to Fish that, via Pro Basketball Talk, you can see here:
Of course, this visual class somewhat glosses over the fact that Fisher was traded from the NBA's most profitable team for payroll concerns alone, even though it didn't free up any cap space for the Lakers. The team's owners felt that paying the last month of Fisher's $3.4 million salary this year, and his player option at the same amount next season, would be too much of a luxury even as the hundreds of millions roll in. And with newly acquired Ramon Sessions already in place, they dumped the guy.
GM Mitch Kupchak, sadly having to act as a front for his cost-cutting bosses, admitted as much to Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears on Thursday:
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak viewed the moves as one deal — "one wouldn't have worked without the other." (Moving Fisher clears $3.4 million off the books this summer which can be used in re-signing Sessions.)
"I was just talking to another general manager and he thought getting the ball-handling guard that we got was a good move that was going to help us in the future," Kupchak said. "My immediate response was it was a high price to pay, which was the case. But those are tough decisions that management has to make and we're hopeful it will work out down the road."
It's important to remember that the Lakers didn't need to lose Fisher's salary in order to re-sign Sessions. The team will be over the cap regardless, and they own Sessions' Bird Rights which allows the team to stay over the cap while re-signing Ramon. This was about the bottom line, and nothing else. Nothing to do with the locker room, nothing to do with "basketball reasons," nothing to do with loyalty.
It's also important to remember that Fisher didn't think twice before jumping to the Golden State Warriors to be highly overpaid by Chris Mullin back in 2004, leaving the Lakers as a free agent and presumably not receiving the same sort of video tribute upon his return. We should also point out that when Fisher gave up the remaining guaranteed dollars on his contract in 2007 to become a free agent, that the Lakers probably paid him a bit more than the open market would have. Don't cry for Fish.
Concurrently, don't expect him to be considering a return to Los Angeles in the offseason, as we talked about on Thursday. At least not now. Spears quotes Fisher as saying that "the door was shut pretty hard" because of the way the Lakers traded him to Houston in a flash following the deal for Sessions. And that he expected the team to at least communicate with him as Kupchak chased down improved point guard play. From Spears' piece:
"I've always thought there are different ways to handle trades and waiver-type situations where there can be some more communication — not necessarily far in advance but enough not to have to find out from the mailman or at the post office that you've been traded," Fisher said. "And I'm not saying that's what happened in this case, but I did wake up and I was traded. That's the part that shocks you more than anything."
Fisher also took offense to a perception that he couldn't have handled being a reserve.
That particular perception was one that the Lakers had to float, both after the Fisher deal and before Thursday's game, in an attempt to remind you that the Buss family has gone incredibly cheap with their championship contender since last May.
Even with the famously 37-year-old Fisher playing on the Oklahoma City side, the Lakers looked old in defeat. They didn't spread the floor well on offense, allowing the Thunder defense to load up as Kobe Bryant took 25 shots, and they had no answer defensively for the Thunder in transition. On court, it appears as if the Lakers are blowing their chance at ascending to the ranks of the NBA's elite just because they refuse to commit to sound, smart basketball.
This disappointment pales in comparison to the lack of commitment from the team's ownership, though. And Thursday night was an unfortunate reminder.