The bottom part of the NBA’s Western Conference playoff picture may appear muddled to the rest of the world, but it is perfectly clear to me.
The ending of the Jazz’s 2011-12 season became obvious when guard Derek Fisher signed with Oklahoma City. That’s it, then: After finishing eighth in the West, the Jazz will lose to the Thunder in the first round of the playoffs.
How else could this play out? Every season since he controversially left the Jazz in the summer of 2007, Fisher has short-circuited the Jazz’s postseason. The Los Angeles Lakers knocked them out of the playoffs three years in a row, then mathematically eliminated them last April.
And now, after being traded by the Lakers and negotiating a buyout with Houston, Fisher is back in the Jazz’s future. How unfair is this? The late Larry H. Miller released him from his Jazz contract, in the interest of accessible medical care for Fisher’s infant daughter, and he’s consistently repaid the Jazz by punishing them.
Fisher’s Lakers went 12-3 against the Jazz in three playoff series, winning in six, five and four games as he averaged 11.8 points on 50-percent shooting. He scored 20 points at EnergySolutions Arena in Game 3 of the 2010 sweep, including a 3-pointer from the corner in the last 30 seconds with the Lakers down by two.
Phil Jackson, the former Lakers coach, once wrote that the basketball gods were “most cruel” to ex-Jazzman Karl Malone, who was injured in the NBA Finals with the Lakers and never won a championship. No, no, no. Cruel is what Fisher keeps doing to the Jazz, and there’s more to come.
The Jazz are fighting with Houston, Denver and Phoenix for the last two playoff spots, with the No. 8 seed opposing the Thunder. So the Jazz will finish eighth, make the playoffs, forfeit their 2012 first-round pick (to Minnesota via the Al Jefferson trade) and lose to Fisher — never mind that he’s 37 years old, was tossed away by the Lakers, was unwanted in Houston and made only 3 of 16 shots in his first three games with Oklahoma City. And then the only ex-Jazzman ever to start for an NBA champion will have another title shot, as the backup to point guard Russell Westbrook.
“It’s a great move for Oklahoma City, a great opportunity to add a guy that will give them great experience and be great in the locker room,” said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin, an assistant during Fisher’s 2006-07 season in Utah. “He’ll help lead that young group of guys into new territory for them. They’re trying to win it all, and Fisher’s a guy that can help them do it.”
To Jazz fans, of course, the sequence of events resembles how Fisher initially asked the Jazz to trade him, then he pressed for a release so he could control where he landed. His daughter, Tatum, was undergoing treatment for a rare form of cancer.
In his book, Character Driven, Fisher wrote, “To his credit, [Miller] didn’t hesitate. He knew that I had to do what was best for my family.”
And then Fisher proceeded annually to kill the Jazz for their kindness. The Jazz benefited by being freed from the remaining $21 million (over three years) on Fisher’s contract and may not have noticed his absence, except he kept showing up every spring.
Here he comes again. As Fisher once said, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol had much more to do with the Lakers’ playoff success than he did, and the same will be true of Kevin Durant and Westbrook. But you just know Fisher will play a part, as always, doing the wrong thing to the Jazz at just the wrong time.