DALLAS — On Derek Fisher‘s first day of practice with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban didn’t miss an opportunity to fire a few shots at his former short-time employee.
Fisher signed a contract with the Mavs in late November when no other teams showed interest and three weeks later Fisher asked Dallas to release him so he could return to his family in Los Angeles. On Monday, Fisher, the NBPA president, resurfaced, signing a deal with the title-contending Thunder, the team he also joined late last season.
“Look, I understand, completely,” Cuban said Tuesday prior to the Mavs’ home game against Milwaukee. “From the time Derek was here to him signing with OKC, his kids are older, so they can deal with things better. So I understand him having more comfort in being away from them.”
Cuban, obviously, had his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. But the Mavs organization wasn’t laughing when it learned that the 17-year veteran had signed with the team 200 miles to the north two months after Dallas agreed to release him from his contract on Dec. 22.
While Cuban did not respond to multiple email inquiries on Monday, an NBA.com source described the Dallas front office as being “agitated.” Cuban on Tuesday confirmed the source’s statement that Fisher and his representatives did not call Dallas to gauge its interest in bringing Fisher back once he determined he wanted to play.
“They did not come back and say he’s interested in playing again, do you want him back?” Cuban said.
Cuban also denied that Fisher and the Mavs had a prearranged understanding that a family situation could force him to ask to be released from his contract.
“Any time you sign a vet like that, whether it’s Mike James or whatever, you say ‘Look, if something comes up, health, family, whatever, we’ll always work with you,’” Cuban said. “No, there were no preconditions because you’re not allowed to have preconditions, right? But we always talk to our guys and say, look we recognize with age comes different responsibilities, so we try to be, with anybody, you know, that’s why teams let guys go home on personal days and stuff like that. When your wife has a baby, this generation we let you go home even if it means missing a game. The better way to put it is we always try to be considerate of any player’s needs, but there was no side deal.”
The Mavs signed Fisher on Nov. 29 just as starting point guard Darren Collison was benched and the Mavs had cooled to 7-7 after a 4-1 start. Fisher immediately took over as the starting point guard. They wanted his veteran leadership and crunch-time savvy, an element Dallas has sorely lacked during this disappointing season.
Fisher injured his knee in his ninth game and was granted his release just days later.
At the time, Fisher thanked Cuban and the Mavs organization in a prepared statement, and said he was making a decision to put life ahead of basketball. Although he also said he wasn’t ruling out a return to basketball.
And so he joins a Thunder team just 26 games before beginning a championship-or-bust postseason. OKC has a need for a playoff-hardened point guard to back up Russell Westbrook. Second-year guard Reggie Jackson won the job over Eric Maynor, who was traded to Portland at last week’s deadline.
“I knew that I still wanted to play the game. I knew I still had the love, the work ethic, the passion,” Fisher told repoerters in Oklahoma City on Tuesday. “The injury was a setback. The biggest struggle was for me, even after 16 years (in the NBA), playing in a different city, being away from my family. Those are things that I struggled with. But as I was leaving Dallas, I understood the risks that that could possibly be my last game or my last opportunity.”
By Tuesday, all that was really left for the the jilted Mavs owner was to have a little fun at Fisher’s expense.
“Like I said, his kids are older now,” Cuban said. “It’s easier to fly in and out of Oklahoma City than it is to Dallas. I understand that. It’s just a decision a parent has to make.