Derek Fisher returned to Staples Center on Thursday as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, his first time back since the deadline day deal the Lakers made to trade him away exactly two weeks ago.
The return was a triumphant one, with his new team thrashing his old one 102-93, behind strong performances from Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, particularly in the second half.
Fisher wasn’t necessarily signed for the statistical on-court production that now, at age 37, he’s unlikely to provide on a reliable or consistent basis. But he impacted the game a bit on this night, personally carving into an early 10-point Laker lead by scoring seven points in seven minutes in his first stint off the bench. This, after receiving two separate, sincere standing ovations from the crowd — one following a video tribute played in the arena just before tip-off, and another as he was subbed into the game for the first time with 2:04 remaining in the first quarter.
Before all that, Fisher met with a large group of media — crazy-large, really, for a regular season contest involving a player not named LeBron James — and talked about his emotions as he prepared to face his former teammates.
“My emotions aren’t really strange,” he said. “You know, I’ve kind of been through this dress rehearsal before a few times with a couple different teams. It’s different compared to what I’ve been used to the last four or five years, but it’s a game. And I play for the other team now.”
Fisher said he has come to accept the trade now, and the fact that it happened at all wasn’t really the concern — it was the way it came about so suddenly that he said was the part that wasn’t all that pleasant.
“I know there have been a lot of statements made — including mine, I guess — about what I thought I knew about the situation, whether I knew I was going to get traded, how I was going to feel about it, what my role would have been had I still been on the team,” Fisher said. “I’m in a good place right now.”
“Initially it was more shock than just pure disappointment,” he continued. “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 there were different ways to handle trade and waiver-type situations, where there can be some more communication — not necessarily far in advance, but enough to not have to find out from the mailman or at the post office that you’ve been traded. And I’m not saying that’s what happened in this case, but I did wake up and I was traded. And that’s the part that shocks you more than anything.”
The prevailing belief in Los Angeles has been that those in power didn’t feel Fisher would adjust well to a reduced role on the team, moving further down the bench after the team acquired Ramon Sessions — a stance which was reiterated by Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak to reporters before the game.
“With Steve Blake and Ramon and Derek we have three point guards,” Kupchak said. “It’s not fair to the coach to get a young, ball-handling guard that you see as the future (in Sessions) and it’s not fair to the coach to have to choose between three players. It’s not fair to Ramon to come in and know he’s the guy pushing that guy to the bench.
“And the third thing is, Derek wants to play. And we felt making this trade that he probably would be the one not playing. And he would try to earn it, he would fight and scratch, but the odds were he would be the odd man out. That wouldn’t be fair to him.”
Fisher discounted this completely, saying essentially that his entire life has been about fitting in with the team concept.
“It 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 been a part of,” Fisher said in regards to possibly having to deal with a reduced role. “Team sports raised me, in a sense — outside of my mom and dad and family, I was raised on team sports. And that meant, and has always stood for, sharing and sacrificing and giving of yourself so that the group can succeed.”
Fisher genuinely seems fine with how things have shaken out, and has embraced his new situation in Oklahoma City. He specifically mentioned the fact that there was no “championship or bust mentality” as a positive, and said after his new team’s big win that the lack of that pressure has the Thunder playing in a free-spirited way that perhaps his former Lakers team hasn’t been able to in quite some time.
“It’s extremely refreshing and enjoyable to play on a team that’s really not playing with any additional pressure to have to do anything,” Fisher said. “We’re showing up every night just having fun and playing the game. To be on such a young team, it’s a lot of fun. The locker room is extremely different than what our locker room used to be like (in L.A.) in terms of preparing for games. But when that ball tips off, Kevin, Russell, Serge, Kendrick, Thabo — everybody’s ready to play. And it’s a good feeling.”