It took 12 days and some give-and-take on the financial front, but the Lakers and Derek Fisher just weren’t ready to part ways.
The Lakers agreed to terms on a three-year contract with the veteran guard, bringing back a steadying locker-room influence and one of their top clutch shooters of the last decade. The contract was believed to be worth about $10.5 million, including a player option in the third year.
“I have decided to continue with Kobe, continue with our teammates and the fans of Los Angeles,” Fisher said in a statement. “While this may not be the most lucrative contract I’ve been offered this off-season, it is the most valuable. I am confident I will continue to lead this team on and off the court. Let the hunt for six begin. . . .”
Fisher, who met with the Miami Heat over the weekend, repeatedly endorsed playing alongside Kobe Bryant in his statement. The two have been part of five NBA championship teams with the Lakers.
“At the end of the day, there’s one person I could not turn away from,” he said. “Kobe Bryant asked me to stay but supported whatever decision I made. He and I have played together for 11 seasons, came into the league together as kids, and [he] has been loyal to me even when others had doubts. We have won five championships together.”
Bryant responded to a text message when asked how he helped convince Fisher to return to the Lakers: “Come on. We are BROTHERS. For real.”
The contract negotiations began slowly, the Lakers unwilling to match the $5 million Fisher earned last season, but they ended well for a team that now has two chemistry-enhancing veterans at ball-handling guard.
Fisher, who turns 36 in four weeks, will be the starter, and recent acquisition Steve Blake will be the understudy.
Fisher averaged 7.5 points and 2.5 assists in his 14th regular season before improving to 10.3 points and 2.8 assists in the Lakers’ playoff run, accruing along the way another collection of postseason memories.
Blake, 30, will make $16 million over the next four seasons.
The Lakers now have nine players under contract and still have $1.77 million of their mid-level exception for next season. They are not expected to bring back guard Shannon Brown, meaning free agents Raja Bell and Shaun Livingston are possibilities to fill out their backcourt. Second-round draft picks Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter could make the roster as rookie forwards.
Fisher rebounded from a subpar regular season to face top-flight point guards in the playoffs, starting with Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and continuing with Utah’s Deron Williams, Phoenix’s Steve Nash and Boston’s Rajon Rondo.
It was Fisher who rescued the Lakers in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, scoring 11 fourth-quarter points against the Celtics and clinching the victory with a coast-to-coast layup in the final minute. It was also Fisher who helped carve out a victory in Game 7, his three-pointer with 6:12 left pulling the Lakers into a 64-64 tie on their arduous crawl back from a 13-point third-quarter deficit.
“That’s D-Fish. That’s just who he is,” Bryant said at the time. “There’s not enough words of praise that I can use to describe him and how I feel about him.”
Fisher was also a late-game protagonist in the 2009 Finals, hitting timely three-pointers near the end of regulation in Game 4 and in overtime to help the Lakers take a 3-1 series lead over the Orlando Magic in the first of back-to-back championship runs.
And, of course, the player who provided the memorable “0.4" shot in 2004 against San Antonio will now likely finish his career as a member of the Lakers.
Lakers assistant general manager Ronnie Lester met with the Phoenix Suns about their vacancy for general manager. He will meet with Suns owner Robert Sarver later this week.
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