Three years later, Derek Fisher and the Los Angeles Lakers are still killing the Jazz for their kindness.
The story of the Jazz's releasing Fisher and making him a free agent in the interest of more accessible cancer treatment for his infant daughter might have lost some juice by now, except that Fisher and the Jazz keep playing their way into one another's lives.
The issue is so not much how Fisher's leaving affected the Jazz overall, just how he's helping the Lakers -- which, annually, hurts the Jazz. As of the summer of 2007, who figured the Lakers would be thriving with a starting point guard who's nearly 36?
And now that the Jazz have run into the Lakers with season-ending consequences for a third straight spring, coach Jerry Sloan is fraying somewhat about this whole thing. With no prompting about Fisher, while discussing Memphis' trading Pau Gasol, Sloan this week described his reaction as the same as when his owner enabled Fisher to sign with L.A.: "Let's help the Lakers."
Sloan later said of the late Larry H. Miller's accommodation of Fisher, "I have no problem with that at all."
The problem is the Lakers' 10-3 playoff record against the Jazz since then, which keeps the Fisher issue -- and my original framing of it -- in play: Do you back him unconditionally? Or do you wonder how much of this was calculated?
Fisher had to have known rejoining the Lakers was a possibility.
Yet to believe he was making a shrewd career move that happened to help his daughter is just too harsh.
Regardless of how he got back to L.A., Fisher is still vital to the Lakers, and that's the remarkable part of it all. "He doesn't look 35," said Jazz guard Deron Williams.
Since the 2007-08 season, when Fisher posted career highs or close to them in most categories, his numbers have dropped off -- including 38 percent shooting this season. Yet he remains a good defender and respected leader. "He does so many things for you, inside and outside of the court," Gasol said. "He inspires a lot of the guys, including myself."
Given another chance this week to second-guess Miller's move, Jazz General Manager Kevin O'Connor did not take it. As Fisher detailed in his book, he originally asked to be traded to any of several teams.
Fisher then pressed for a release so he could control where his family moved and where his daughter, Tatum, would be treated, and Miller agreed.
"To his credit, [Miller] didn't hesitate. He knew that I had to do what was best for my family," Fisher wrote in Character Driven .
Driven , Miller's just-released autobiography, does not mention Fisher.
While they would have preferred to trade Fisher, the Jazz did benefit by being free of the three years and nearly $21 million left on his contract. His departure gave more opportunity to guards Ronnie Brewer (since traded to Memphis) and Kyle Korver (who arrived during the following season) and left money available to match free-agent offers for C.J. Miles and Paul Millsap.
The Jazz's biggest loss, then, is how the Lakers have won with Fisher. The Lakers' 2009 title run made him the first ex-Utah Jazz player to start for an NBA championship team.
"Surprised? No," Sloan said of Fisher's contribution. "He takes great care of himself, he's in terrific shape, he's got toughness about him."
Sunday, the day between Games 3 and 4, is the three-year anniversary of Fisher's memorable playoff game against Golden State. He arrived in the third quarter that night after his daughter's initial treatment in New York and helped the Jazz win in overtime.
Tatum Fisher is doing well. Her fourth birthday, a milestone for young cancer patients, is next month.
Anticipating another playoff return to EnergySolutions Arena, Fisher said, "For me personally, some of the emotion ... has worn off a little bit."
Not so for many Jazz followers. Their view of Fisher fits into their resentment of the Lakers, who just keep punishing the Jazz for doing a good thing.
For a photo gallery from the Jazz's practice Thursday, visit http://www.sltrib.com.
Saturday, 6 p.m.
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