The phone calls and text messages will presumably be coming soon, if not already, from the old friend and the sage coach who want to team up with Derek Fisher one more time.
Kobe Bryant won five NBA titles alongside Fisher and nearly a sixth thanks to Fisher’s legendary point-four fling in the 2004 playoffs.
Phil Jackson guided Fisher to each of those championships, with Fisher embodying the coach’s Zen presence more than any other Laker on the court and in the locker room.
In the Hollywood version of this story, the trio would reunite for one more run at glory, Fisher coaching Bryant while Jackson cajoles them both from the Lakers’ front office.
The El Segundo reality of the situation is that that possibility was scuttled by six ridiculous words — “There was no role for him” — from Lakers executive Jeanie Buss regarding Jackson, her fiance. That foolish edict could force Fisher to choose between his onetime coach who now runs the New York Knicks and his former teammate who appears stuck in Lakers purgatory.
Fisher, considered a candidate for both the Knicks’ and Lakers’ coaching jobs, couldn’t bring himself to address his future, only his painful present, after playing what might have been his final NBA game Saturday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The veteran point guard lingered on the court long after the end of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 112-107 overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, mindful that his playing career could be over after 18 seasons and a record 259 playoff games.
“It’s possible that this truly does symbolize the end of a very long career,” Fisher said more than an hour later in front of his locker. “I don’t think based on the emotions I’m feeling right now [that] it’s smart to start betting on what I’m going to do next.
“But I’m going to definitely take it seriously, like I’ve always tried to do with everything in life. Consider my options, consider what’s best and then go from there.”
Fisher said he had not heard directly from the Knicks or Lakers but conceded that there probably would be conversations in the near future. He stressed that he wouldn’t take as long to decide whether to keep playing as he had in recent years.
The Lakers signaled that they believed Fisher was finished as an effective starter more than two years ago, when they traded him in midseason to make way for younger, and then older, replacements.
Oklahoma City Coach Scott Brooks embraced Fisher not just as a valuable locker-room presence but as someone who could help the Thunder win a championship off the bench. He played 32 minutes, including the final 21 minutes 47 seconds, in Game 6 Saturday, making a three-pointer as part of the Thunder’s comeback from a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
“Scotty has shown trust in me that a lot of people for sure locally have questioned at times and I can’t say enough about what he’s done for me personally and professionally,” said Fisher, who finished with five points and six rebounds. “My career could have been over a year or two ago easily had he not continued to trust not just the little things I try to do on the court to help the team but just my value to a team.”
Fisher, who will turn 40 in August, remains a passable reserve, but, let’s face it, it’s time for him to pounce on one of the coaching opportunities that are almost sure to come his way.
He is thought to be a top candidate for the Knicks’ job because of his longtime association with team President Jackson and his familiarity with Jackson’s preferred triangle offense.
The story is so big there that reporters from the New York Times, Post and Daily News jockeyed for position around Fisher’s locker as he buttoned a green vest that he paired with khaki pants and brightly colored polka-dot socks.
The Lakers are also expected to speak with Fisher about returning to coach the team he spent 12 1/2 seasons with over two stints. His upside is alluring as someone who could work harmoniously with Bryant while providing the kind of reassuring presence the Lakers need to emerge from the failed coaching tenures of Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni.
Anyone who questions whether a savvy playmaker can make the transition from old-time player to rookie coach should consider this two-word retort: Jason Kidd, who guided the rebuilt Brooklyn Nets to the Eastern Conference semifinals in his first season.
Fisher said he had not allowed himself to think about what it might be like to work with Jackson or to coach Bryant, giving the Thunder his full focus. But during exit interviews Sunday, he spoke about the possibility of teaming with Bryant once more.
“When you’re brothers, you’re brothers, regardless of what capacity it’s in,” Fisher told reporters. “If something like that were to happen, we’re brothers so we’ll figure it out.”
In what would amount to the ultimate test of loyalty, Fisher might have to decide between the brother and the father figure, only one of whom could be at his side in the years to come.