<
>

Eight-year vet looking at options

LOS ANGELES -- Derek Fisher, a key member of the Los Angeles Lakers the past eight seasons, opted out of his contract Wednesday to become an unrestricted free agent.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said the team expected such a decision.

"This is an opportunity for him to see what the market is,"
Fisher's agent, Mark Bartelstein, said by telephone from Chicago.
"He's a heck of a player. You only have so many chances in your
career to test the market and so many chances to be a free agent.

"By no means does this mean he doesn't want to be a Laker. He'd
love to stay a Laker. We're going to go through the process and see
what happens."

Kupchak said the Lakers will be aggressive in trying to keep
Fisher, who joined them as a first-round draft pick in 1996.

"I think a lot of our players made sacrifices and maybe nobody
more than Derek Fisher did," Kupchak said, referring to the fact
that Fisher lost his starting position when Gary Payton joined the
Lakers last summer.

"I know Derek wants to play and he wants to play significant
minutes," Kupchak said. "I know he wasn't happy, it was a tough
year for him. Considering his stature on this team and what he went
through, he was nothing but professional.

"It's my understanding that Derek does want to finish his
career here and that is something that we would like to see
happen."

Fisher would have earned $3 million from the Lakers in each of
the next two seasons had he not opted out. He can't sign with
anyone, including his former team, until the middle of next month.

He joins Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone in exercising options to
become free agents.

Kupchak said he has been speaking with Bartelstein for about 10
days and the two discussed a contract extension. Obviously, that
didn't work out.

Bartelstein would not discuss financial parameters.

"Once we get to free agency, we'll deal with that at that
time," he said.

Fisher, who turns 30 in August, was expected to opt out even
before Payton exercised his $5.4 million option for next season on
Tuesday.

Fisher played in all 104 games for the Lakers this season,
averaging 21.6 minutes and 7.1 points in 82 regular-season games
and 23 minutes and 7.5 points in 22 postseason games. He was a
member of the Lakers' three straight title teams starting in 2000.

He made one of the most memorable shots in a playoff game in
years, hitting an 18-foot running jumper at the buzzer to give the
Lakers a 74-73 victory over San Antonio in Game 5 of the Western
Conference semifinals.

The Lakers then won Game 6 to advance to the conference finals,
where they beat the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Lakers lost to the Detroit Pistons 4-1 in the NBA Finals.

Meanwhile, Kupchak didn't have much to say about the Lakers'
coaching situation or Shaquille O'Neal's request to be traded.

"I don't anticipate it running into the middle of July," he
said of hiring a successor to Phil Jackson. "I would hope the end
of June, the first 10 days of July, I'd like to have a coach."

Former Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich was interviewed
Tuesday, and former Lakers coach Pat Riley, now an executive with
the Miami Heat, confirmed Wednesday he spoke with Kupchak and owner
Jerry Buss but wasn't a candidate.

Kupchak said the focus was on Thursday night's NBA draft and he
thought that would carry on through the weekend.

Regarding O'Neal, Kupchak said: "There's nothing more to
comment on than has been already stated. Obviously the best of all
worlds is we keep this team together, that we carry on and win."

O'Neal requested a trade last Friday -- a day after Kupchak said
he would never trade Bryant but didn't close the door to a possible
trade of O'Neal if he wanted to play elsewhere. The decision that
Jackson wouldn't return was announced the following day.

Kupchak said he didn't believe something had to be resolved
concerning O'Neal before a coach is hired.