Derek Fisher will be back at The Peake next season.
I suspect he’ll be wearing a very dapper suit.
Yes, as expected for the past few days, Fisher has accepted the head coaching job with the New York Knicks. Reports out of the Big Apple say the details are still being finalized but that a five-year, $25 million deal is expected.
The Knicks finally have a coach, but now, the Thunder needs a third-string point guard.
And a veteran locker room presence.
And a coach-in-the-making type.
Fisher, after all, was way more than the third-string point guard during his nearly three seasons in Oklahoma City. He became a steadying force for the Thunder, a player who had the respect of every guy in the locker room, a veteran who knew what it took to win a title and shared that knowledge in a way that didn’t offend anyone.
“People don’t see what he does behind the scenes,” Thunder veteran Nick Collison said, “but the guy, he’s incredible.”
As the big man talked during his exit interview two weekends ago, it was clear that Collison, an impressive locker room presence in his own right, was in awe of Fisher these past few years.
“Different from any teammate I’ve had,” Collison said. “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, but at the same time, he has these abilities that are different than anybody in terms of leadership.”
And now, the Thunder must fill the void that Fisher leaves on its roster.
So, who might be his replacement?
There’s no one quite like him in the league, of course, but ever since the Thunder has been in Oklahoma City, it has always had that veteran presence, that locker room champion.
Mason was as close as any of them came to being a star, but really, each of those players was brought in by the Thunder to do more than play. They were brought in to lead and nurture and assist.
Not coincidentally, I suspect, most of these Fisher types even lockered in the same area. They were on the Durant-Westbrook-Ibaka side of the locker room.
So, now that Fisher is taking his talents to Manhattan Beach, it’s safe to assume the Thunder is on the lookout for someone to take over that role. A veteran. A leader. A winner. And oh, someone with a cheap price tag.
Fisher made $1.3 million this past season.
The Thunder might be willing to go above that number for Fisher’s replacement, but a deal in that ballpark likely removes someone like Trevor Ariza from consideration. Ditto for Shawn Marion. Both are free agents, but both made north of $7.5 million this season. Even if one of them was willing to take a paycut, a reduction that’s big enough to work with the Thunder’s salary structure seems unlikely.
But there are options.
Here are a few names to consider:
Chauncey Billups: The veteran point guard has an NBA title on his resume, and even though he has another year on his contract with the Pistons, his salary next season is only $2.5 million.
Plus, he’s been an impressive guy even back to his college days at Colorado. Flip Saunders is even lobbying him to hang up his high-tops and become an assistant in Minnesota.
Maybe the Thunder could get Billups to play for a year, then become an assistant in Oklahoma City.
Mike Miller: The Thunder missed out on him last summer when he signed a free-agent deal with the Grizzlies instead. But now, his one-year, $1.3 million deal is up and he’s a free agent again.
He might not be able to play like he used to. Having duct tape holding your knees together will cause issues here and there. But he can still shoot it pretty well, he has a ring and he’s one of those players who widely respected around the league.
Beno Udrih: Yes, this is an out-of-the-box possibility. But after that first round series against the Grizzlies, the Thunder knows that he can play.
Udrih, who made $1.2 million last season, also has the look of a good locker room guy. Check out his Twitter account, and you’re likely to find a steady stream of encouraging words.
“People will always judge you. That doesn’t mean you have to pay attention to them.”
“Do not let the shadows of your past darken the doorstep of your future.”
“Don’t look back — you’re not going that way.”
Stuff like that might seem cheesy, but it’s way better than the worrisome nonsense that many athletes tweet these days.
Plus, from the did-you-know file, Udrih has not one but two championship rings, won in 2005 and 2007 while he was with the Spurs.
It’s hard to say exactly who Sam Presti and Co. will sign to fill its open roster spot, but chances are good, that player will be a consummate professional, a veteran leader and a proven winner. He will fill what is henceforth known as the Derek Fisher Chair, future coaching gig and fancy pants suits not included.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.