Commentary

Fisher set to begin next Lakers chapter

Updated: July 24, 2010, 9:30 AM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

HAWTHORNE, Calif. -- Two things seemed inevitable in the Lakers' negotiations with Derek Fisher this summer: One, that he would eventually decide his heart and home were in Los Angeles, and two, that he would eventually have to sacrifice financially in order to stay.

After talking with him Friday morning -- his first interview since he agreed to a new three-year, $10.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers on July 12 -- another inevitability should be added to that list: That he would get over whatever disappointment he initially might have felt, quickly.

Or rather, that he would convert that disappointment into motivation in about 24 hours.

"I don't want to say frustration, that's not the right word," Fisher said, when asked if he had been frustrated by the pace, or by the final terms, of his negotiations with the Lakers.

"I fully understand that this is a business and they have a job to do in terms of negotiating contracts and trying to re-sign guys. I fully respect it.

"So for me it's about bringing that mentality in when I show up to work. It's about business and not as personal as you may think it is. You're here to do a job. For the next three years, I'm ready to do my job the best that I can do it and we'll still have largely the same goals as we've always had, which is helping the team and winning championships. Anything outside of that is not to spend time on."

Is Fisher happy to return to the Lakers? Yes.

Would it be a happier homecoming if, say, he were making as much as Steve Blake (four years, $16 million), who will likely be backing him up next season?

Gotta believe that'd be a "yes," too.

But this being Derek Fisher, his comments on Friday morning outside of his youth basketball camp at the Hanger Athletic Xchange in Hawthorne will likely be the last you'll ever hear on the issue.

[+] EnlargeDerek Fisher
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesFisher will embrace the challenge of proving he can still perform.

On the day after he committed to return to the Lakers -- announcing his decision via his website and thanking Kobe Bryant for convincing him to return, but never actually mentioning the Lakers -- Fisher got back in the gym and started preparing for next season.

"I got started about nine or 10 days ago," Fisher said. "That's all I know how to do. We've been talking to these kids [at camp] all week about being committed to something and having the right attitude about things, doing things in life that have meaning to you, doing the right things and persevering.

"So I'm right back at it and I'm committed to being the best that I can be. I didn't sign a three-year contract by accident. I fully expect to continue to help my team in a major way for the next three years."

Fisher has always been a guy who plays with a chip on his shoulder, using comments or criticisms as motivation.

He's never been the tallest or most athletic guy on his team. Never been the most talented or the most dangerous player on the court. And yet, really through sheer will, character and discipline, he became a five-time NBA champion, Kobe Bryant's most trusted confidant and an unquestioned leader of the Lakers.

The Lakers, along with their new Eastern Conference rivals, the Miami Heat, recognized those traits and pursued him vigorously. LeBron James met him at the airport, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh called or text messaged him frequently. Heat president Pat Riley and owner Micky Arison met with him in Miami for more than three hours.

On the Lakers side, Bryant reached out to him just about every day and general manager Mitch Kupchak personally let him know that the team considered him to be its top offseason priority. Fisher said he and coach Phil Jackson never got a chance to speak, "but we left messages for each other and knew where we were both at."

Other teams with championship aspirations, but maybe not a championship roster, called to discuss more lucrative deals.

But teams with already-bloated payrolls, weighed down by maximum contracts for their superstars and the dead weight of some bad contracts for their bench warmers, can offer only so much.

[+] EnlargeDerek Fisher and Kobe Bryant
Nathaniel S Butler/NBAE via Getty ImagesThe chance to play with Bryant again lured Fisher back to L.A.

The Lakers were unconstrained in what they could offer him because they had Fisher's Larry Bird rights. But whatever they offered him would be subject to a dollar-for-dollar penalty because the team is already well over the NBA's luxury-tax threshold.

In other words, loyalty always had to be counterbalanced by financial reality. And the question wasn't whether the team wanted to re-sign Derek Fisher but how much it wanted to re-sign him.

In a perfect world, the Lakers would have rewarded Fisher with a new contract and a raise for helping them to three straight NBA Finals and back-to-back championships.

In a less-than-perfect-but-still-pretty-good-world, they would have paid him as much as they committed to Steve Blake next season, if only for the symbolism in that gesture.

Instead, in the real world, both sides made a deal they could live with.

Fisher sacrificed a little to stay where his home and heart are. The Lakers continued to stretch themselves financially in the pursuit of championships by re-signing Fisher and adding Blake, Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff.

"I guess it probably just caused a little bit more delay and stress than all the people involved wanted to experience but I still think it worked out for the best," Fisher said.

"It's something I can appreciate and live with and I'm excited about these next three years. I think we have a fantastic basketball team and a chance to be great for another three years and I'm excited about what I can accomplish off the court in the City of L.A. in the next three years as well.

"I just felt strongly that with my relationship with Kobe and more importantly my relationship with this community and the City of Los Angeles, even more so than the team and the basketball ... those were all really important to me in terms of making the decision to choose the Lakers and stay here in Los Angeles."

Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.