- Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Senior Writer
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LAS VEGAS -- Derek Fisher is waiting on Phil Jackson's decision about retirement like the rest of us. But with both of their futures with the Los Angeles Lakers uncertain -- Fisher is a free agent, and Jackson told the world last week that he was leaning toward retirement -- now is the time to say what needs to be said.
"In terms of my feelings about him: He's remarkable," Fisher said.
"It's sad to me," he said, "when you think about what he's accomplished in his career, that he still always has to deal with these type of scenarios where there's a question of whether or not he's the best person for the job, or he's not really coaching because of the players that he's had. He's just a remarkable human being in terms of his approach to managing and coaching the team.
"I think not even just the Lakers, but the NBA as a whole, would lose a big part of what this game has been about the last 20 years if he's not back. If he's not back, it changes the whole landscape."
Fisher spent the weekend presiding over an NBA Players Association meeting in Las Vegas, discussing a collective bargaining agreement proposal for the NBA and its owners. He'd barely slept since the Lakers won their second straight title, and was hard at work this weekend. Still, it was hard not to think about how much Jackson's decision would affect the Lakers, the NBA and himself.
Fisher said he and Jackson did not discuss the issues that will influence Jackson's decision, but said he could empathize with rumors that Jackson might be asked to take a pay cut if he returns.
"As much as it is about his quality of life and how he's feeling, his energy levels," Fisher said, "I think his decision could be easier if he wasn't maybe feeling as though he's not being fully appreciated, which is how it ultimately makes you feel."
As for whether his future is tied to Jackson's decision, Fisher said he's not thinking in those terms.
"I think it's an interesting debate," Fisher said. "I think you could go either way, depending on who you are. In my opinion, I could be as valuable or more valuable to the team if, unfortunately, Phil wasn't back. Because then a lot of the value I bring in terms of leadership and the things that'd be necessary to be able to hold it together during that type of transition would be even more important."
He added: "Right now I don't want to think about Phil not being back, so it's hard for me to get there. But for discussion purposes, I think I'd be even more valuable, not less."
Fisher said his respect for Jackson has grown over the years.
"I think our relationship has definitely evolved over the last decade, from when he first came to the Lakers," Fisher said. "I've just grown in appreciation for his style and the way he handles things. I know I've been a better player and a better person, and just in a lot of ways, better, because of him."
Ramona Shelburne is a writer and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
45mMichael C. Wright