HONOLULU (AP) -Through a strange twist of fate, the man known as D-Fish is back with the Los Angeles Lakers. His role figures to be a bit different the second time around.
``It's a breath of fresh air,'' Lakers star Kobe Bryant said Tuesday regarding Derek Fisher's return to the team. ``It's special for me. We came in together.''
And, Bryant said, the two have enjoyed a closeness ever since arriving in 1996.
``When we're in our 50s and 60s, we'll still have that,'' he added.
Fisher and Bryant were teammates for eight years before the mass exodus from the Lakers following the 2003-04 season, when Bryant stayed while the likes of Fisher, Shaquille O'Neal, Rick Fox and Robert Horry headed elsewhere. The team hasn't won a playoff series since then.
``It feels special, it really does,'' Fisher said following the Lakers' first formal practice of training camp. ``It feels like a gift that fell out of the sky. It's an example of how you really have to submit to life.''
After leaving the Lakers, Fisher played two seasons with the Golden State Warriors and one for the Utah Jazz. He captured the attention of NBA fans throughout the country last spring when he left the Jazz briefly during the playoffs because his young daughter, Tatum, was being treated for retinoblastoma - cancer in the left eye.
He decided to speak publicly about it to make people aware of the disease.
``It's real-life stuff,'' he said Tuesday. ``A lot of families out there have experienced cancer. I don't see us as special.''
After helping the Jazz reach the Western Conference finals, Fisher asked for his release so he could concentrate on finding the best medical care for his daughter, since the kind she needed wasn't available in every U.S. city.
Fisher had three years remaining on his contract, but the Jazz honored his request. Shortly thereafter, the Lakers signed him to a three-year, $14 million contract. Fisher took a pay cut, but it was well worth it.
``She's doing as well as we can ever hope and pray for,'' Fisher said. ``It's wonderful to see her enjoying life at 15 months.''
Fisher and his wife, Candace, have four children. Tatum and her twin brother, Drew, are the youngest.
Bryant, Fisher, Luke Walton and Brian Cook are the only players on the current roster who played for the Lakers in the 2003-04 season. Cook and Walton were rookies on that team.
``It's awesome having him back - just his presence,'' Walton said. ``The best thing about Fish is he knows the triangle offense better than most of us.''
Fisher was responsible for one of the most dramatic moments in franchise history with his improbable buzzer-beating jumper to win Game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference semifinals against San Antonio. For the most part, he was a member of the supporting cast to O'Neal and Bryant, playing a significant role in three championships and another trip to the NBA finals from 2000-04.
``Everyone knew who we were,'' the 33-year-old guard said of his first eight years with the Lakers. ``We had the two best players in the game on the same team in their prime, for the most part. Now, we're in a different place. We just need to play ball and everything will take care of itself.''
``I'll definitely have to step up more in terms of leading the team. I don't think I'll be in a position where I'm sitting back and waiting for things to happen. In the framework of the offense, I'll be looking to be more aggressive.''
The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder averaged 10.1 points and 3.3 assists for the Jazz last season. He has career averages of 8.7 points and 3.3 assists.
Fisher started only three games for the Lakers in the 2003-04 season, and has started 351 of 782 career games. He's counted on to be a first-stringer now, replacing Smush Parker, who signed with Miami after the Lakers decided they didn't want him back. Fisher figures as a significant upgrade in the backcourt.
``His role is stability, non-turnover, take care of the ball, make shots,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. ``Fish makes big shots. He gets balls back for you at the defensive end by taking charges and getting steals.
``With Fish, we can play fullcourt pressure. And he's somebody Kobe can identify with.''
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