Jazz: Fisher released from contract
Nearly a year to the day after Derek Fisher was traded to Utah, the Jazz took the unprecedented step of releasing the veteran guard from the final three years of his contract, citing the continued treatment of Fisher's 12-month-old daughter for a rare form of eye cancer.
Fisher flew from New York, where his daughter Tatum is undergoing another round of treatment, to make the announcement Monday evening at the Jazz's practice facility. He was due $20.6 million on the contract but said, "Life for me has always outweighed the game of basketball."
The retinal cancer that his daughter is battling has not worsened, but Fisher said both Tatum and her twin brother, Drew, who has not developed the cancer, will require regular medical care for another 32 months, through the duration of the contract.
That care, which requires a combination of specialized pediatricians, pediatric oncologists and pediatric ophthalmologists, was not available in Salt Lake City, even at the Huntsman Cancer Center, Fisher said.
He added that only a "handful" of cities fit for both Tatum and Drew's care and for Fisher to continue his basketball career. At the same time, Fisher questioned how many teams in those cities would be interested in a soon-to-be 33-year-old guard.
"I know it's hard for people to imagine at this point what I'm giving up,'' Fisher said, "and what my family and I are giving up in terms of what we've established in my career and this contract that I worked my entire life to secure. It's the risk that we have to take at this point.
"There are just some decisions in life that you make, and they're just the right decision to make, and you can't worry about or be overly concerned with what's to come after when you're just doing it for the right reasons."
There was no known precedent for such a move, which left the Jazz in daylong conversations with the NBA office. Even if he signs with another team, Fisher stands to lose millions while the Jazz will subtract Fisher's championship experience from a young team that just reached the Western Conference finals.
The Jazz will release Fisher from his contract effective July 11 unless a trade can be worked out, which was characterized as a small possibility. Jazz owner Larry Miller wiped tears from his eyes during the press conference while Kevin O'Connor sat with his head bowed.
"Trust me, I've gone through it a million times,'' Fisher said, "on how to just make it all fit and all work to where everybody can be happy and everybody can get what they need out of this, and it just didn't quite come together."
Although he was initially reluctant about the July 2006 trade that brought him to Utah from Golden State, Fisher said he wouldn't have asked for his release if Tatum, who celebrated her first birthday Friday, never had been diagnosed with retinoblastoma in her left eye early May.
The rare cancer affects between 200 and 300 children annually in the U.S. Fisher pursued a course of treatment that preserved the possibility his daughter would not lose her eye.
Fisher authored one of the signature moments in franchise history, flying in from his daughter's treatment in New York for Game 2 of the conference semifinals against Golden State, delivered by a police escort from the airport to EnergySolutions Arena.
He walked from the locker room to the court in the third quarter and immediately checked into the game, hitting a three-pointer in overtime.
Fisher, who won three championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, called the Jazz, "the best team I've ever played on,'' spoke about his friendships forged with Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams, and said he expected next season's team to be a title contender.
"I'll be rooting them on, no matter where I am,'' said Fisher, who vowed to call his former teammates personally in the coming days.
Miller was admittedly skeptical that Fisher wasn't trying to force his way out of Utah, raising the question in internal discussions and "about five times" with agent Mark Bartelstein. In the end, Miller said Fisher's decision to forgo so much money spoke to his conviction.
"I think the evidence of his willingness to walk away is just too compelling to think otherwise,'' said Miller, who praised the "leadership and toughness" Fisher brought to the Jazz.
Fisher has made more than $33 million for his 11-year NBA career.
Although he considered the possibility since the end of the playoffs, Fisher made his final decision Sunday night in New York. He flew to Utah with his wife for the news conference, called on an hour's notice, and then returned to New York, where Tatum will undergo another round of treatment beginning at 6 a.m. today.
"As far as we know right now, outwardly, in her physical appearance, she's doing great,'' Fisher said. "Her spirit's good. The very tough part about this is that we don't know what the tumor's doing inside until we get to the doctor that day."
Even after she finishes her last round of chemotherapy, Tatum will require monthly exams and Drew the same every other month. Fisher said it wasn't fair for him to play in one city and his wife to supervise his children's medical care in another city.
"I don't even think I could be the player that I need to be if I had to carry that load,'' Fisher said.
His decision came on the second day of the NBA's free agent negotiating period, which gives Fisher the best chance of signing with a new team and the Jazz the best chance of finding a potential replacement.
Although the Jazz were under no obligation to release Fisher from his contract, O'Connor said it was the "right thing for the right reasons."
"We're sitting here and everybody seems sad about this,'' O'Connor said. "I think what we should be is grateful is there's somebody that cares as much about their family as [Fisher] and somebody that owns the team and cares as much for the same reasons."