Derek Fisher is unpaid for most thankless job in NBA

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Derek Fisher can’t win right now.

On one side he has teammates (Kobe Bryant and Steve Blake) pretty much ready to take the owners’ last offer and get back on the court. On the other, he has hardline players (Paul Pierce is your ring leader) and agents incensed the union has given up as much as it has already to get near a deal. The hardliners are talking decertification — blowing the union up and getting Fisher out of the game.

Fisher is caught in the middle, and often caught away from his family for extended periods now. His home is in Los Angeles, but lately it has felt more like his home is a hotel room in New York.

And it’s all unpaid. Not a buck. Something Kevin Ding lays out in a fantastic feature in the Orange Country Register (if you click one link and read something today, make it this).

He is not getting paid anything for this. He digs into his own pocket even for meals while holed up in New York for bargaining meetings – sometimes packing for what was supposed to be a couple days and then having to agree to stay for a week or a week and a half. He pays for personal assistants to fly and stay and help him in New York, including a trainer to keep him on track physically to continue his old job as a basketball player at some point.

He tries to justify the expenses to his wife, in addition to his glaring absence at home at the usual offseason time when he gets to reconnect with his kids. Staying committed to serve his fellow players at this critical time, Fisher is left to steal away from New York and back to Los Angeles just to see his kid’s soccer game and then jet back on a red-eye flight.

Working out has at least remained the primary release for Fisher, but even that can get complicated. At 37, Fisher was taking it to Ricky Rubio, 21, last week in a pickup game in Los Angeles and enjoying doing so… but soon enough Fisher was off in the corner of the gym, on his phone, dealing with union business again.

We’re not asking you to shed a tear for Fisher, who has made $57.8 million in salary over the course of his career and is owed $6.8 million more over the next two seasons (minus missed checks because of the lockout).

But the man took on this job and stepped forward to lead the union through this crisis. Not Pierce, not Kevin Garnett, not Dwyane Wade of Blake or Kevin Martin. They are all hecklers from the sidelines. Fisher is out on the court playing every day.

Fisher’s strength is a confidence that doesn’t have him shrinking in the big moments. There is a reason Kobe trust’s Fisher like no other. That confidence is serving Fisher well right now. And as Ding points out:

If Fisher were not involved and it was just Billy Hunter and union lawyer Jeffrey Kessler vs. David Stern, do you think they would be anywhere close to a deal right now? Not likely. This would be a much, much more ugly. The players and fans need Fisher’s level head in there to have any chance of having a 2011-12 season.