- Arash Markazi, ESPN Staff Writer
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Dear Dr. Jerry Buss,
I appreciate you taking a break from the poker table and the trio of Hawaiian Tropic models who are no doubt keeping you company while you play Texas Hold 'em at some casino. I promise I won't take too much of your time.
I'm writing you in regards to Derek Fisher. You know, the little old point guard on your team you probably curse under your breath for five months during the regular season before he hits big shot after big shot during the playoffs en route to winning another championship? Yeah, that guy.
Well, as you know, his contract is up and it seems you and Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak are suffering from a case of amnesia when it comes to negotiating a new deal for him. It's understandable. It was a long season and you may simply be relying on numbers, which aren't exactly in his favor, such as his age (35) and statistics (he averaged close to career lows of 7.5 points and 2.5 assists per game while shooting 38 percent from the field last season).
There is no box score, statistical analysis or spreadsheet, however, that can truly quantify what Fisher means to your team. Simply put, you can't win a championship without his leadership and calming presence on and off the court. All the money you've spent signing Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Ron Artest and Lamar Odom along with the recent re-signing Phil Jackson is all for not if you don't re-sign Fisher as well. He is the glue that keeps this team together, and if you think he's easily replaceable, look at how your team did during the three years he was gone and how successful you were in the postseason with guys like Smush Parker and Chucky Atkins as your starting point guard.
Fisher is the most respected player in the Lakers locker room and is the one player everyone on the teams listens to whenever he gathers them together. (In fact, he's the only player Bryant will even pay attention to when he needs to be criticized or critiqued.) His speeches before, during and after games are almost as legendary as his big-game heroics. It isn't a stretch to think the Lakers probably wouldn't have won either of their previous two championships if Fisher weren't on the team. In fact, Bryant would be the first to tell you it wouldn't have been possible without him.
Now I know you want Fisher back and I know you know Fisher wants to come back, but you shouldn't use that as a reason to lowball him. Fisher was paid about $5 million last season, less than what Adam Morrison made and less than what Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton will make next season. All he wants is to be paid the same amount next season. It isn't a high number for a starting point guard with five championship rings to his credit, but you are disrespecting him by scoffing at his request and offering him a one-year deal for $2.5 million.
This really isn't about the salary figure for Fisher; it's really more about respect at this point. Fisher gave up roughly $8 million over three years to come back to the Lakers when he left Utah three years ago to take care of his daughter, Tatum, who had been diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer. Since his return, the Lakers have gone to three straight NBA Finals and won the last two titles in large part due to the timely speeches and shots made by Fisher. He's not asking for a raise or to be paid on par with the starters he has had to carry on his back at times; he's simply asking for a fair deal. He's asking you to not make him beg for what he's earned; he's asking you to not embarrass him by publicly making him take a 50 percent pay cut. He's asking you to simply respect him as much as his teammates and coaches do.
It isn't hard to do right by Fisher. You just agreed to a four-year, $16 million contract with Steve Blake, a solid complementary point guard who may one day be Fisher's heir apparent but in no way comes into the locker room or huddle with the same clout.
I know you don't want to give Fisher a long-term contract, but he would jump at a 2-year deal for $8 million. Such an agreement would not only keep Fisher happy but allow him to retire as a Laker and allow him to return to the team with his head up instead of answering questions about his new backup making almost twice as much as he does.
I know you're trying to be shrewd in your spending, but I'm also confident you won't let one of the most beloved players in team history leave over $2 million when that's about the same amount the team earns for a home playoff game. It's an amount he's probably helped you make 10 times over by extending a playoff series or forcing a Game 7 as he did during the NBA Finals with his emotional performance in Game 3 in the Garden, giving the Lakers their first win against the Celtics in Boston since Magic Johnson's baby skyhook in 1987.
You've taken care of every one on your team. You gave lucrative contract extensions to your top players. You made sure Jackson's eight-figure salary was still intact if he wanted to return. You've even taken care of soon-to-be former players like Jordan Farmar by granting his wish by not tendering him an offer and making him a restricted free agent even though it would have made the most business sense to do so.
Now it's time to take care of the player who has been as important and integral to this team's success as anyone else. Don't embarrass him by cutting his salary in half or anger him to the point where he is forced to leave to save face.
Do the right thing. You should know by now he'll return the favor when it matters most.
Arash Markazi is a columnist and reporter for ESPNLosAngeles.com
5hChris Broussard and Marc Stein