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Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News
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.

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."

Fisher, a married father of four who turns 33 next month, isn't the only one with an uncertain future.

The Jazz must now re-evaluate their own needs.

O'Connor, for one, understands that it must be done.

"This is a decision that Derek made, and it's a sacrifice. This is the decision that Larry (Miller) made, and it's a sacrifice from a team concept," he said. "But it's easy to make that decision, because it's the right decision for the right reasons."

The Jazz perhaps must now adjust their focus in the NBA's summer free-agency market, which opened this past weekend.

Utah has expressed interest in, among others, Toronto swingman Morris Peterson and Dallas swingman Devean George.

Peterson is a potential replacement starter at shooting guard who could be had in the open market, though several other teams are interested as well.

Now, though, the Jazz also have a new need at point guard.

None of that is lost on Fisher, who averaged 10.1 points last season.

"I'm forever grateful to be allowed to make this decision," he said. "You know, in our game this is not something that the team has to do. This is not something any team in any professional sport, for that matter, has to do.

"Obviously I'm taking a risk in losing a lot financially. The team is taking a risk in losing a lot of in terms of the team dynamic, and what has been built in terms of the quality of the team," he said. "But it also gives my family and I the ability to make the decision that's best for us going forward, and it also gives the team the opportunity to make their decisions in a timely manner as well."

It's for that reason Fisher made the decision — which he has been pondering, with the Jazz's knowledge, for quite some time — now rather than later.

"I don't find it, personally, fair," he said, "to have extended this out, and thought about it all summer, and mulled over it, knowing that this is something that we're gonna have to deal with, no matter how you put it."

One solution might have been for Fisher to play here while his family lived somewhere where Tatum could receive top-notch care.

Many NBA players have maintain long-distance relationships with spouses during the season, but Fisher did not consider that an option for him and his wife, Candace.

"For me and my family, we don't believe in it. This just is not how it works for us," he said. "We enjoy coming home to each other, we enjoy being there for each other — and it would not be fair to ask my wife not just to raise our children and handle our family with me being gone seven months out of the year, but then (also oversee) what we're dealing with specifically with Tatum.

"That's not fair to ask her to carry that kind of burden. ... I don't even think I could be the player that I need to be, if I had to carry that load — and then, ultimately, I'm not being fair to the team, because it's affecting my performance.

"Trust me," Fisher added, "I've gone through it a million times on how to just make it all fit and all work to where everybody could be happy and everybody could get what they need out of this — and it just didn't quite come together."

Fisher file


Points per game 8.6

Assists per game 2.6

Rebounds per game 2.4

2006-07 season:

Points per game 10.1

Assists per game 3.3

Rebounds per game 1.8

E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com