Hours after his 18th NBA season had come to a sudden end, Derek Fisher wasn’t quite ready to label it his last.
“I’m still struggling with the results of last night,” Fisher said at his exit interview on Sunday afternoon.
But the way he spoke, the emotion in his voice, the sentimental goodbye feeling of his words, painted him as a 39-year-old at the beginning stages of a realization of what’s to come – a lengthy and historic playing career that’s likely over.
“If this was it,” Fisher said, “I’m beyond thankful that it was here and it was with these group of guys and this people and this community.”
If he wants it, Fisher is all but assured a spot on the Thunder’s roster next season – as a bench player and unofficial coach.
But two rare opportunities potentially await him on the outside. And they are of the “limited time only” variety.
Both the Knicks – an organization run by Phil Jackson, his long-time coach – and Lakers – his former team, led by Kobe Bryant, one of his best friends – have head coaching vacancies. Both have waited for a chance to talk to Fisher before filling them.
But neither has much longer to wait.
“Always envisioned finishing up as a player, at whatever point, then take a step back,” Fisher said. “You go on a sabbatical for a year or two. You go home and be the best at-home dad you can be for awhile, then you make some decisions about what you want to do next.
“(But) that’s not the way the world works these days, in business, in sports, in life. So much of life is timing and opportunity and being able to take advantage of the right opportunities and the right situations at the right time.”
On Sunday, Fisher admitted to being intrigued by coaching. He said it’d give him a chance to “positively impact other people’s lives” and that he always “felt like my purpose in life or calling so to speak was to be in a leadership position.”
Those on the Thunder would agree. The typically testy Russell Westbrook referred to him as an “older brother,” saying he has always shown him the “right path.”
“People don’t see what he does behind the scenes, but the guy, he’s incredible,” fellow veteran Nick Collison said. “Different from any teammate I’ve had. The way he can address the team. Almost like a coach, but guys don’t roll their eyes at him like, ‘Who is this guy?’ He feels like one of us.”
Besides coaching, or potentially returning for another title run with the Thunder, Fisher will also likely have options in front office management or other business ventures.
At this point, though – so soon after the season – he has little idea of his next move. But unlike some retiring athletes, he has plenty of post-career options.
“It’s surreal to think about,” a humbled Fisher said.