Five-time NBA champion Derek Fisher isn’t planning on his latest stint with the Oklahoma City Thunder being his last chance to play in the league. He has just one goal in mind and he’ll wear a reminder of it on his jersey in every game.
Fisher chose No. 6 to wear on his uniform, to represent his quest for a sixth NBA title. He won five alongside Kobe Bryant with the Los Angeles Lakers and for the second straight season will join the Thunder for the stretch run to try and help Kevin Durant win his first.
”It symbolizes something for me in terms of No. 6 but it also symbolizes for me the reason why I’m here to be a part of this team and that’s to help get No. 1,” Fisher said Tuesday after his first practice.
Fisher wore No. 37 last season to reflect his age and deliver a message that he could still play after getting traded away by the Lakers. He wasn’t offered the chance to return to Oklahoma City during the offseason, but he was signed Monday as a free agent after the Thunder traded away third-string point guard Eric Maynor.
Fisher played in nine games earlier this season with Dallas, but asked for his release to spend more time with his family after he had injured his right knee.
”I knew that I still wanted to play the game. I knew I still had the love, the work ethic, the passion,” Fisher said. ”The injury was a setback. The biggest struggle was for me, even after 16 years (in the NBA), playing in a different city, being away from my family. Those are things that I struggled with. But as I was leaving Dallas, I understood the risks that that could possibly be my last game or my last opportunity.”
He said his knee was healthy enough by Jan. 1 for him to resume training, and he hopes the end of career is not near.
”I’m not planning on retiring at the end of the season but if this is my last season, I deserve this opportunity to be here with this group,” Fisher said. ”So, that’s really what brought me back.”
Coach Scott Brooks wouldn’t say if Fisher or swingman Ronnie Brewer, who was acquired in a trade last week, will be activated for Wednesday night’s game against New Orleans. He said both will get playing time, but he’s not divulging how he plans to shake up his rotation to mix in the two playoff-tested veterans.
”Minutes are going to be had, minutes are going to be probably taken away from many guys, and not just because of Derek Fisher. Just as the season goes on, sometimes the rotations become smaller,” Brooks said. ”In order to have a good team, you have to have guys that are committed to the team, and sometimes those things happen.
”There’s nothing etched in stone right now.”
Brooks said he would prefer to settle into a steady rotation, so players can understand when they’ll have chances to impact the game, rather than use the newcomers based on situations and match-ups.
Last season, Fisher essentially claimed the minutes of backup point guard Reggie Jackson, although he usually played off the ball with James Harden running the show. The dynamics of the team have changed now, with Harden gone to Houston in an offseason trade.
”We’re a different team. Things are different,” Brooks said. ”One thing I think we know we’re going to get from him is a competitor, a winner, a guy that’s going to do everything for the team, and you can never have enough guys like that.”
Fisher said he believes Jackson, a second-year player, ”deserves the opportunity to continue to play” but left those decisions in Brooks’ hands.
”He’s been a champion many times over. He gives us leadership. Does he take spots on the floor, minutes from the other guys? To have a good team, you have to have sacrifices from everybody,” Brooks said. ”I don’t know what they all will entail at the moment, but definitely he will play.”
Brewer, viewed as a defensive stopper, joins a crowd of wing players on the Thunder roster. Durant, the three-time scoring champion, eats up the lion’s share of minutes at small forward while starter Thabo Sefolosha and sixth man Kevin Martin split the time at shooting guard.
”We’re not looking for him to score. We’re not looking for him to handle the ball a lot,” Brooks said. ”We’re just looking for him to be one of those intangible players, those winning basketball players.”
The new additions could mean more opportunities to use a smaller lineup, with Durant logging more minutes at power forward and diminished playing time for centers Kendrick Perkins and Hasheem Thabeet. It will be up to Brooks to find the right combinations to get the Thunder to their ultimate goal, after they lost to Miami in last year’s NBA Finals.
”I think it’s extremely clear what our goal is, what we’re here to accomplish, and oftentimes that’s what sets the table,” Fisher said. ”Once we all have a common purpose and a common goal, then it’s just about us each doing our jobs.”