Parting ways — Fisher opts to leave Jazz

Published: Tuesday, July 3 2007 12:57 a.m. MDT

Utah Jazz guard Derek Fisher, right, sits beside Jazz owner Larry H. Miller during a news conference in which the team announced that Fisher has been released from his contract. Fisher and his wife, Candace, want to devote their energies to caring for their daughter Tatum, who has cancer. The couple need time to search for the best treatment available.

Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News

In one swoop Monday the Jazz lost their starting shooting guard, their backup point guard and a dedicated family man willing to jeopardize his career and sacrifice a small fortune in order to help his young daughter beat cancer.

Veteran Derek Fisher asked to be released from the final three years of his contract Sunday, a request the team granted and expects to formalize when NBA collective bargaining agreement rules permit on July 11.

In doing so, Fisher — who hopes to catch on as a free agent with a team in a city where his 1-year-old twin girl, Tatum, can best be treated during her battle with retinoblastoma, a rare form of childhood eye cancer — will leave on the table more than $20 million in guaranteed salary.

"I know it's hard for people to imagine ... 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," said Fisher, an 11-season NBA veteran who joined the Jazz last summer. "It's the risk that we have to take at this point.

"Life, for me, has always outweighed the game of basketball," Fisher added after flying from New York, where Tatum where will undergo evaluation and possible chemotherapy treatment today, to Salt Lake City for a news conference to announce the decision. "And I think that's why I've always been able to keep things in the right perspective."

After delivering the news to gathered media members, Fisher immediately flew back to New York to be with his daughter.

He suggested Tatum, who was diagnosed with the potentially blinding and life-threatening disease while the Jazz were making their run in this season's NBA playoffs, is doing well considering the circumstances.

"Outwardly, in her physical appearance, she's doing great," Fisher said. "Her spirit's good.

"The very tough part about this," the longtime Los Angeles Laker added, "is that we don't know what the tumor's doing inside until we get to the doctor that day."

Fisher said doctors have recommended about a half-dozen cities where Tatum can ideally be treated. Salt Lake City evidently was not among them, despite the presence of the renowned Huntsman Cancer Institute. Fisher did not identify the locales, but it's believed Los Angeles and New York are among them.

"From the moment we started dealing with it, I've had ... in the back of my mind, 'What's gonna be required for us going forward as a family?'" Fisher said.

"(Sunday) night it became clear that I have to make this decision," he added, "because it gives us, as a family, the opportunity to make the choice that's best for us, even though it's putting a lot of things at risk."

Fisher said he hopes to continue playing, but isn't certain he will.

"Right now basketball is not a priority," he said. "I don't have any plans to retire from basketball, but at this point the considerations for Tatum medically will be what we'll pursue ... first and foremost.

"I'm not assuming that I'm just gonna get a job," Fisher added. "I don't think that much of myself."

Both Jazz owner Larry H. Miller and basketball operations senior vice president Kevin O'Connor seemed more optimistic about Fisher's employability.

The question, though, is at what cost?

"It's unlikely that he's going to re-sign for what he's walking away from," Miller said, "and he knows that."

So be it, Fisher suggested.

"The future I don't know about," he said. "I do still love to play basketball. I would enjoy still playing the game. But there are lot of things to consider going forward that will determine when and where that will be.

"There are only certain places that can happen," Fisher added, "and we'll see how that goes from here."

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