Archives For sasha vujacic

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Records: Lakers 18-7 (3rd in West), Pacers 11-12 (7th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.3 (1st in NBA), Pacers 104.0 (21st in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.7 (11th in NBA), Pacers 102.6 (9th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Pacers: Darren Collison, Mike Dunleavy, Danny Granger, Josh McRoberts, Roy Hibbert
Injuries: Lakers: Theo Ratliff (out); Pacers: none

The Lakers Coming in: Apparently, yesterday was a bad day for me to get sick since there was a lot of news with the Lakers.  So while I sip on another Thera-flu, let’s get right to it in discussing all the ins and outs of a busy Tuesday for the Lakers.

First, Andrew Bynum returned last night and I thought he looked as good as could be expected considering his long lay off.  There were a couple of plays where his footwork was awkward and he was unable to convert the two lobs that were tossed his way, but those were the only down moments on a pretty successful evening.  In his 17 minutes of game action, ‘Drew did a good job of changing ends and he used his (massive) size effectively to create post up chances on offense and block/alter shots on defense.  In the end though, his biggest impact came in how he provided rest and an interior alternative for Pau and Odom.  Throughout the game Gasol especially looked fresher and more comfortable on the floor as he no longer had to preserve energy while also taking all the banging down low – two things that don’t really go well together.

The other big news was obviously the trade of Sasha and LA’s 2011 first round pick as part of a three team deal that netted them Joe Smith, two second round picks, and Ukrainian big mag Sergei Lishouk.  This trade has a lot of positives and I’m quite pleased with the haul the Lakers received and the financial benefits that result from the deal.  Looking at the money first, the Lakers save nearly $9 million this year in salary and luxury tax payments in the swap of The Machine for Smith.  They also gain a trade exception of almost $5.5 million according to cap guru and CBA expert Larry Coon.  All of this money will bolster the Lakers chances of being able to spend more next off-season or use the trade exception to take on salary without giving up any players should a player come available that the Lakers really want to bring on board.

As for the haul of Smith, picks, and Lishouk are concerned, I’m very happy that the Lakers have been able to supplement their big man depth (a real need), grab additional second round picks that can be added to the roster or stashed in Europe with little financial commitment, while also grabbing the rights to a seasoned European big man that currently plays in one of the most competitive leagues in the world.  Obviously the picks and Loushik are potential pieces for future seasons and can’t be looked at as anything more than assets, but Smith is a guy that can help this year as another serviceable big that can hit the top of the key and baseline jumpshot while also providing decent low post defense.  Plus with Ratliff still out of commission from his knee surgery, Smith provides a contingency plan in case Theo’s recovery takes longer than expected.  Overall, this is a win for the Lakers as they’ve accomplished what many would have thought impossible: they’ve traded Sasha, saved money in the process, and picked up assets that can help down the line without taking on any additional salary.  Really, Mitch Kupchak has done it again.

One last note on Sasha, I’m happy that he’s going to get a fresh start and wish him nothing but the best in New Jersey.  While his tenure with this team had its severe ups and downs and could mostly be characterized by frenetic play that upset Lakers fans as much as the opposition, Sasha provided some good moments that I’ll remember for a long time.  His two FT’s to clinch last year’s title are the obvious, but his inspired play in 2008 also helped the Lakers reach the Finals and really contributed to the turnaround of this organization from first round fodder to contender.  His role in all of that was indeed limited and behind the bigger roles of Kobe/Pau/Bynum/etc, but he’s a guy that always worked hard and gave it his all on the court.  And for that, at least, I’ll remember him fondly.  Plus I’ll miss his videos.

The Pacers Coming in: Since the 5 game stretch at the end of November when the Pacers took down both the Heat and the Lakers, the team from the Hoosier state hasn’t been able to find a real rhythm.  They’ve lost 5 of their 7 games this month and haven’t beaten a quality team since they visited Staples Center and took out the Lakers (their two wins this month have come against the Bobcats and the Raptors).  So right at the time that many thought the Pacers were breaking through and starting to show that they can be a pretty good team in the East, they’ve stagnated.  It’s like they’ve come back to earth before ever really taking off.

Plus, their coach seems to be making some strange decisions and showing tougher love than what may really be needed with his up and coming team.  Recently, Jim O’Brien sat Darren Collison down the stretch of a close game in favor of AJ Price.  When Collison was asked about being parked on the pine, he offered that he “didn’t know why (he) didn’t play”.  Then you have the comments he made about Roy Hibbert to the media where he basically said that his much improved Center “isn’t really having a good season”.  I’ve always liked O’Brien as a coach as he typically gets the most out of his players.  He runs creative schemes on both sides of the ball and his results are usually better than expected considering the talent on his roster.  But, in this case, I’m really not sure what he’s up to or what he hopes to accomplish by taking the stance that he has with two of his best young players.  We’ll have to see if this leads to better play, because even though they currently sit in 7th in the East this group does need to turn it back around.

Pacers Blogs: Jared Wade continues to do a bang up job covering the Pacers over at 8 Points, 9 Seconds.

Keys to game: When these two teams met last month, the Pacers controlled the paint on both sides of the ball and pulled out the win mostly with their ability to defend well and control the tempo of the game.  Tonight, if the Lakers are to get the season split, they’ll need to turn the tables on the Pacers by taking that same formula and making it their own.

Offensively this means attacking the interior through quick post ups and by utilizing the actions of the Triangle to get good shots going towards the hoop.  Last night against Washington, the Lakers did a very good job of being patient on offense and waiting for cutters to break open and then delivering the ball on time to get shots at the rim.  Those same techniques can be utilized tonight against the Pacers if the Lakers commit to running their sets and executing them cleanly.  That means setting good screens off the ball and cutting hard when Kobe, Pau, and Bynum are in the post.

The other key on offense will be to make the extra pass against a good defensive team.  The Pacers do a great job of playing a disciplined defense where they rarely gamble and funnel players to the paint so that their bigs can contest shots.  To beat this type of defense, the Lakers will need to penetrate the gaps but then look to make the pass to the open man when the help comes.  In the last game the Lakers got too caught up playing in isolation and it led to bad shot attempts and a lot of Kobe ball.  Kobe did his best to keep the Lakers in it by having a 41 point outburst, but in order to get the win tonight, more balance will be needed and that means moving the ball on to the open man when possible.

Defensively, the Lakers need to defend the paint.  In the first match up, the Pacers made 22 of their 33 FG’s within 10 feet where Hibbert and the Pacers’ wings were way too comfortable posting up and attacking off the dribble.  The Lakers need to do a much better job of fighting Hibbert for position while simultaneously closing down driving lanes better.  Having Bynum back will aid in this, but I’m also looking for Artest and Kobe to do a better job on their men by not gambling as much for steals and by playing better position D when the Pacers run their myriad of screens and cuts to free up their perimeter scorers.

On the second night of a back to back, this will be a good test for the Lakers to see if Bynum can be productive and if the rest that the Lakers got last night will carry over into tonight.  Motivation should be easy to come by considering the results of their last meeting, but it will take more than just wanting it tonight.  The Lakers are going to have to exceed the execution of the Pacers and play hard throughout in order to get the separation that they’ll need to pull this game out down the stretch.  Hopefully, we’ll see that commitment to playing a full 48 that we saw last night against the Pacers this evening.

Where you can watch: 4pm start time out west on KCAL.  Also listen at ESPN Radio 710am.

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Part deuce of our look at key stats for the upcoming season focuses on the bench corps. In case you missed it, check out our post on the starters too.

Lamar Odom: O/U 30 games as a starter
Fisher and Bryant are used to receiving props for their durability, but Odom proved that he belongs in the Lakers iron man conversation too after playing in all 82 games in 2009-2010. As the starting center on Team U.S.A. this summer, Lamar entered training camp this week with only a few weeks of rest. His load figures to be even heavier to start the season now that Bynum is out for at least the first few weeks, leaving Odom as the go-to starter. The Lakers have been able to weather his inconsistency as a sixth man the past two seasons, but will especially need Lamar to elevate his game while Andrew heals. Going off of Bynum’s own timeline, Odom is a virtual lock to start the first 15-20 games of the season. The Lakers can only hope it stays around that number and far away from the 38 games he started last season.

Sasha Vujacic: O/U 37% three-point shooting percentage
Sasha fell out of favor with Lakers coaches and unfortunately, back into the “practice player” label too as he only connected on 31% of his three-pointers during the regular season–down from his career average of 37%. Here’s hoping his much-improved performance in the final two rounds of the playoffs is more indicative of his play this season.

Luke Walton: O/U 70 games played
Luke was largely a forgotten man in last season’s championship run after appearing in only 29 games due to a pinched nerve in his back. Heading into 2009-2010, Walton’s troublesome back remains a bit of a ticking time bomb for the Lakers. Though they’ve proved that they can win without him, Luke’s expert knowledge of the offense is an undervalued commodity on a second unit that will be lacking triangle wherewithal. If his back holds up, it’d sure be nice to see him play close to a full season.

Matt Barnes: O/U 38% three-point shooting
The Lakers expect stellar defensive tenacity and intagibles out of Barnes, but they also need him to spread the floor from the three spot, similar to the player he’ll likely be subbing for the most—Artest. Matt shot 32% from beyond the arc during the regular season in 2009-2010, but improved to almost 38% during the playoffs—a trend that L.A. is hoping continues this season. Barnes proved himself a capable, if unspectacular offensive player during recent playoff runs with the Warriors and Magic, but finding consistency in his outside shooting will go a long way toward shoring up L.A.’s second unit this season.

Steve Blake: O/U 3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio
Blake has been quietly dropping bombs from three point land for years now, hitting 40% of his treys last season (23rd in the league). However, equally important to the Lakers’ success this season will be his ability to lead the offense in a way that his predecessor Jordan Farmar never quite mastered. Blake ranked 13th in the league last season with a 2.97 assist-to-turnover ratio and could do a lot worse than replicating that number this season. Early reports out of training camp from Coach Jackson and Kobe indicate that Steve is already taking control of the team, which bodes well for next season.

Shannon Brown: O/U 2.5 assists
After a sub par regular season and playoff run for Shannon, his second full season with the Lakers is all about the other tricks in his bag. For starters, he can improve his nearly 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio—an ugly stat that is unfortunately mostly consistent with his inconsistent decision-making. When Brown first joined the forum blue and gold, there was preliminary talk about his ability to potentially supplant Fisher as the team’s starting point guard, thanks to his ball-handling and the strong potential he showed as a man-to-man defender. He obviously isn’t the answer the team is looking at the one spot anymore, but he remains a vital spark plug in the 20 minutes or so he plays off of the bench.

Theo Ratliff: O/U 1.5 blocks
Ratliff was a shot-blocking fiend during his prime and will be asked to recapture some of that magic as the Lakers’ third-string big man. With Andrew missing the first month of the season, Theo moves one rung up the ladder. At this stage of his career, Ratliff is a bit of a one trick pony, but his specialty—blocking shots—is something that L.A. despertaely needs from its second unit.

Derrick Caracter: O/U 275 lbs
So far, so good on the Derrick Caracter weight watch as the the versatile forward entered training camp in compliance with the team-mandated weight clause. The Lakers will certainly keep a close watch on his conditioning throughout the season, and if he sustains his motivation, he could get some quality burn even in Coach Jackson’s notoriously anti-rookie regime. The odds of this happening, of course, also depend on the collective health of Walton and Bynum.

Devin Ebanks: O/U 1.5 steals per 40 minutes
It’s difficult to pinpoint a stat for a player who isn’t expected to see much time on the floor this season, but I, along with the Lakers, view Ebanks as a potentially very strong defender in the same vein as Trevor Ariza. For that reason, it would be great to see him channel the former Lakers forward as a go-to defender on the wing, agile enough to guard some of the league’s larger point guards, but still sturdy enough to do battle with the NBA’s elite small forwards.

More Mailbag!

Darius Soriano —  August 17, 2010

Lamar Odom tries to shoot around a reporter's microphone while being interviewed at a U.S. national basketball team practice in Las Vegas, Nevada July 21, 2010. REUTERS/Laura Rauch (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

It’s time for another installment of the FB&G mailbag.  If you’d like to submit a question, click here and fire away.  Thanks again to everyone that has sent in questions.  Here we go…

When Phil Jackson retires, does that mean the end of the Lakers’ championship window? After all, the all-powerful team has been struck down a notch and the HEAT has garnered a year of experience for themselves. As a Laker fan, it is the season after this that has me most worried.

-Anonymous

I think losing Phil Jackson will be a blow to the Lakers.  However, I would not say that the Lakers championship window would “close” based solely off the fact that Phil would no longer be the coach.  Because, while extremely important, there are many other factors that go into winning a championship besides coaching.

At the top of that list is talent and, even without Phil as the head man, the Lakers will still have one of the best rosters in the league when Phil departs.  Just when looking at the Lakers top 5 players – Kobe, Pau, Bynum, Odom, and Artest – you have the makings of a championship roster, even if we’re talking 3 years from now.  And this only references talent that is in house and on the court.  When you look at Mitch Kupchak’s recent ability to build a championship team by drafting well and winning trades, it’s easy to forecast the Lakers continuing to build a strong roster even as the team ages – especially when considering the market advantages the Lakers possess by being based in Los Angeles and the brand advantage they have of being one of the most storied organizations in all of sports.

And while I agree that there are fast rising teams around the league (Miami, OKC) and traditional powers from the past few seasons (Orlando, Boston, Spurs) it’s still unknown how those teams will develop and grow over the next few years.  Will the new collective bargaining agreement be an impediment to building upon their already impressive rosters?  Will the Heat and Thunder respond to heightened expectations and beat back the pressure in a manner that leads to them dominating the league?  I don’t pretend to know the answers to the these questions nor do I want to cast doubt on either of these teams.  But in the end, I believe the Lakers will be right there battling for the title for seasons to come.  And as a fan, that’s really all I can ask for.

Do you think that with the recent additions of Matt Barnes and Steve Blake that the Lakers get into the top 10 in 3 point shooting?  I know these past few years the Lakers have not been a great perimeter shooting team (for example, when facing the zone defense vs. Phoenix in WCF).

-Daniel

Considering the Lakers tied for 23rd in the NBA in 3 point FG% last season, if next year’s Lakers were to jump into the top 10 would seem like a miracle.  However, it’s actually not that far fetched.  Consider the following:  last season the Lakers shot 34.1% from behind the arc, making 532 of their 1,562 attempts.  As I mentioned, that ranked them 23rd in the NBA in 3 pt. FG% (tied with Minnesota).   Denver was the 10th ranked team in the NBA, shooting 35.9% on their long ball attempts.  Using this past year as a template, the Lakers would have only needed to hit 33 more three pointers on the same number of attempts to raise their percentage to 36.2% – a percentage which would have ranked them 9th in the NBA right above the Hawks.

Now also consider that this past season both Kobe and Derek Fisher shot below their career averages by shooting 32.9% and 34.8% respectively (compared to 34% and 37.3%) and were well below their averages from the season before (35.1% and 39.7% respectively).  So, if Kobe and Fisher revert anywhere close to their career averages, the Lakers should be a better three point shooting team next season overall considering that combined, Kobe and Fish took about one-third of the Lakers attempts from deep.  Then, when you replace Farmar with Steve Blake and consider the possibility that Ron Artest will be more consistent from three point land next season and you have the ingredients for a major jump in three point shooting accuracy.

This isn’t to say that I’d call this particular Lakers’ team a great shooting team.  Nor am I guaranteeing that all the things I mentioned earlier are sure to happen or are even likely (I could see Kobe struggling from deep again and/or Fisher continuing his regression as a shooter), but the potential for a big jump in three point accuracy is there for this team.  And in the end, I do believe that the Lakers will shoot better to the point that if they aren’t in the top 10, they’ll be right on the cusp.

I understand that Shannon and Sasha have different weaknesses and strengths.  But why did Sasha fall out of favor with Phil and the coaching staff and not get any burn last year while Shannon got a lot despite a regression in his game?  Is it a personality issue?  Is it because Sasha got almost the entire 09 regular season to show what he had and Phil finally lost patience? 

If that was the case, was last year’s regular season the same principle applied to Shannon?  He had a great 09 playoff run so coaches gave him the entire 10 season to work through his game like they did with Sasha in 09. 

Will Shannon be on a tighter rope this year and the coaches looking at him and Sasha equally?  Or does Sasha’s personality bother the staff so much that he’ll be glued to the bench unless there’s a huge separation between him and Shannon.

-Jason/Chownoir

Not being in the locker room or in the practices, I can’t speak to any potential personality issues that exist between Sasha and the coaches.  And while Sasha did have that spat with Brian Shaw that earned him an extended stay in Phil’s doghouse, Sasha’s minutes were sporadic at best to that point in the season.  So, I believe that Sasha’s shorter leash has been based off his experience in the league and specifically his tenure on the Lakers and in the Triangle offense.  Essentially, Sasha should been better tuned into how the coaches wanted him to play and acted accordingly.  The fact that he still made the same mistakes that he’s been making for several seasons all while not bringing the consistency as a shooter that earned him time in 2008 led to a diminished role and a lower tolerance of his mistakes.

Meanwhile, this past year was Shannon’s first full year with the team.  To be fair, he was still learning his role and was still feeling out the Lakers’ sets.  And while Shannon made plenty of mistakes too, those could easily be explained away by his relative inexperience in the Triangle at a time when the Lakers coaches were (seemingly) imploring him to explore more facets of his game.  Personally, I was frustrated at times with Shannon’s decision making, but along the same lines, players do not improve if you don’t give them room to fail and then learn from those mistakes.

All that said, I do believe this season will be the litmus test for Shannon and that there will be greater expectations on him to perform well and do so within the confines of his role.  I think the coaches will be less patient with him and that he may too find himself glued to the pine if he doesn’t “play the right way” by making the correct reads and moving the ball in the manner that every player is expected to do.  Remember too that Shannon saw his minutes greatly reduced in the Finals when he made several defensive mistakes against Ray Allen while struggling on offense himself.  Phil then turned to Sasha as a defensive presence against Allen and the Machine performed well in his limited minutes.  So next season, even though Shannon just got re-signed and Sasha is reportedly on the trading block, I believe this competition may be more open than a first glance suggests.  I think that Shannon definitely has the upper hand as he’s the more athletic player, seemingly takes coaching better, and has more upside as a contributor on both ends of the floor.  But, that doesn’t mean that Sasha can’t/won’t have a role if he’s on the roster and next season may prove to be the year that the Machine makes his way back into the rotation.

For the last 3 years the top of the West has been in a constant state of flux. We’ve faced 3 different teams in the WCF, and the first 2 (San Antonio and Denver) have both failed to win a playoff series the following year. That trend looks likely to continue with Phoenix losing Amar’e.  With all that said, who do you see emerging as the main threat to the Lakers’ conference supremacy in 2010/11? I think Portland and Houston will be very dangerous IF their big men are healthy. What’s your take?

-Joel

I think the easy choice in who will truly challenge the Lakers are the Thunder.  The argument is easily made that, besides the Celtics, OKC gave the Lakers the stiffest challenge of any competitor and that with the experience they’ve gained and the continued growth of Durant and Westbrook that they’ll make a major leap next season and be a team that makes the conference finals.

However, the team that I’m probably most high on is the Houston Rockets.  In a recent post at TrueHoop, I mentioned why I believe Houston has a chance to step up and challenge for the #2 spot behind the Lakers and I’m not wavering in that belief.  Yes, a lot will depend on the health of Yao and Kevin Martin.  And as I mention in TH piece, I’m skeptical about the individual defense of Aaron Brooks, Scola, and Brad Miller.  However, when it’s all said and done I think their combination of top notch talent (I truly respect Yao Ming and think he has a tremendous impact on both ends of the floor), role players, and coaching will take them a long way this season.  Plus, I really like the acquisition of Courtney Lee in the Ariza trade.  While I love Trevor and think he’s getting a bit of a raw deal in the analysis of how he played last year, I think Lee is a great combo guard that will bring some of the guard skills that Ariza lacked.  I also think he’s a versatile enough defender that he can play some PG against the CP3/Deron/Paker/Nash/Westbrook’s of the world that Houston doesn’t always need to close the game with Brooks or Lowry while also being able to play next to either of those guys if the line ups dictate it.  Mind you, I don’t think Lee is some sort of star, but he’s another very good role player that will compliment the games of Martin and Yao very well.

(With Lamar Odom joining Team USA for the World Championships this Summer) Do you think the wear and tear will affect Odom come the season? Will he get the training camp jitters out now or will he be bringing in a new sense of discipline this year?

-Travis

There’s always the concern that playing for Team USA will wear Odom down.  He’s not the most durable player to begin with (though he’s been much better in recent seasons) and there’s surely a chance that he could end up suffering during the season from tired legs or just feel the affects of playing summer ball at the World Championships.

All that said, I think this is a great thing for Odom and will serve him well in preparing for the upcoming season.  Based off his tenure in the league, Odom will be a leader on this team and that will require a focus and discipline that should help him when the Lakers pursue their third straight championship.  I also think playing some Center in the international game is a good prep for his role on the Lakers as it will require that LO rebound and defend the paint while also moving well off the ball when teamed with explosive guards and wings.  Plus, just as with the Lakers, Odom will come off the bench for Team USA so there will not be a big change in his current role in LA.  Really, outside of the injury/fatigue risk, this should really help Odom in getting ready for the upcoming season and I’m really happy that he’s getting the opportunity to play.  I’m a firm believer that nothing get’s you ready for a season quite like playing with other excellent players and Odom will get that chance with this group.  And while the most talented guys won’t be on this particular U.S. team, this should still be a beneficial experience for LO and one that helps the Lakers.

June 17, 2010 - Los Angeles, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES - epa02208512 Los Angeles Lakers' head coach Phil Jackson points during a play against the Boston Celtics during the second half of game seven of the NBA Finals at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, USA, 17 June 2010. The Lakers defeated the Celtics 83-79.

The calendar has turned to August and news surrounding the Lakers roster is starting to dry up.  However, there’s still some news to report and we’re here to give you the most updated information we can…

*For those concerned about the hold up in Phil actually signing his new contract to coach the Lakers, fret no more.  Mr. Eleven Championships has finally put pen to paper to return as head man of the defending champs.  And while there aren’t a lot of details about the deal (really, there aren’t any details in regards to years, dollar amounts, incentives), we can all breath a bit easier now that Phil is officially back pacingsitting on the sidelines and stoically not calling timeouts as the Lakers pursue another championship.  Not that I was ever concerned about his return.  I will, however, be waiting on any information about the actual terms of the deal whenever those are released.  Is it a one year deal as expected?  How much (if any) of a paycut did Phil take?  Do incentives still exist for winning the championship?  Curious minds want to know.

*Phil’s assistants – Brian Shaw, Frank Hamblen, and Jim Cleamons – have also all been brought back into the fold.  And special assistant Chuck Person has had the “special” lifted from his title and is now just a plain ol’ assistant coach.  I’m happy for the return of “The Rifleman” as he did a lot of good work behind the scenes(h/t to Land O’ Lakers) and got a lot of good ink during the playoffs for helping Kobe refine the release on his shot due to his busted index finger.  On a side note, Person was a player that I always liked during his playing days.  He may not have been much of a defender, but he was a fiery competitor that could fill it up from anywhere on the court. 

*With the coaching staff now settled and back in full, the last questions have to do with who (if anyone) will fill out the Lakers roster.  The Lakers are still in talks with Shannon Brown’s agent about a return of WOW and I’m hopeful that something can be worked out so that he does indeed return.  I’ve noted (and we can all agree) that Shannon has holes in his game and that he’ll likely never be a starter on a team the caliber of the Lakers (especially not with #24 in the mix).  However, his athleticism and want to play the right way are excellent traits to have on a team and I think he’ll continue to make strides in his development to the point that he can be a steadier contributor in future seasons.  Plus, as we’ve discussed, Sasha’s contract runs out after next season and Matt Barnes’ deal has a player option after next season.  It’s quite realistic that the Lakers could be looking for another back up on the wing after next season and Brown could easily be that guy if Sasha/Barnes do in fact leave.  If the Lakers really like Shannon (and it seems like they do), it seems like a good idea to make a commitment to him now so that in another year they’re not right back where they are now – looking for a back up for Kobe.

*Speaking of Sasha, there have been reports recently that the Lakers are looking to get rid of his contract.  One report had the Lakers looking to trade Sasha for Delonte West in a deal that would save a couple million dollars (including the luxury tax payment) as West makes less than the Machine.  This led to speculation that the Lakers would add another head casein the talented, yet troubled combo guard.  However, now that West has been waived by the T-Wolves that rumor can go away as West is a UFA and can’t be traded for any longer.  All that said, I think we should point out (as Kurt did) that any acquisition of West would likely have led to the Lakers waiving the guard who only had a partial guarantee on next year’s contract.  That would have saved the Lakers some real money and freed up both the cash and minutes that Shannon probably craves from any of his suitors.  Anyways, now that any deal for West is dead the Lakers are likely still trying make a move with Sasha though no one knows if they’ll actually make progress on that front.  It will be interesting to see, however, if the Sasha’s status with the Lakers influences any of the ongoing talks with Shannon’s agent.

*The Lakers still have not signed either of their rookies to contracts, but I have not heard of any snags in that department and anticipate that both Ebanks and Caracter will be signed to deals at some point before camp begins.  As I’ve expressed before, I’m high on both of these kids as talents and think that Mitch got two steals at points in the draft that don’t typically produce NBA caliber players.  And while I hesitate to take too much from their summer league performances, I believe that both of these players have enough ability to step in and play moderate minutes in a pinch as they both have a maturity to their physiques and games that could translate to the NBA right away.

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Forum Blue & Gold takes a look at the Lakers’ own version of the Energizer Bunny—Sasha Vujacic. Check out Phillip’s post for Sasha’s comments from his exit interview.

SEASON IN REVIEW:

“I knew we were about to win the game,” said Vujacic after Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals. “We didn’t want to give them a chance to come back or make some crazy shots. I had to make two free throws. I did it.”

From hero to zero…back to hero? To say Sasha Vujacic’s last three seasons have been a roller coaster ride would be an understatement; the Slovenian guard has gone from playing a major role on the self-dubbed “bench mob” during the Lakers 2008 title run to barely having any impact at all during the last two seasons. That is, until his two clutch free throws with 11.7 seconds to go in Game 7 preserved a Lakers victory over the hated Celtics. I vividly remember a January game during the 2006-07 season against the Dallas Mavericks when Sasha lit up the Mavs to end what was a 13-game winning streak. Despite posting a horrible shooting percentage for most of that season, Sasha attributed his unwavering confidence for his unexpected 16-point outburst and go-ahead three-pointer with less than 30 seconds to go in the game. It is this same confidence that allowed the 26 year-old to calmly step to the free throw line this year with a championship on the line.

“That’s what I live for,” said Vujacic. “As a little kid, as a professional athlete…as someone that loves the game of basketball, I’ve got an opportunity to go out there and I knew they were going to foul me and I just live for the moments like that.”

Two free throws in Game 7 of the Finals can make you forget many things, but make no mistake about it—Vujacic struggled mightily for much of the regular season and playoffs. Sasha averaged just three points per game in 9 minutes of play over 67 games. More importantly, he fell out of favor with the coaching staff, with his minutes instead going to the likes of Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar. Toward the end of the season though, he appeared to have turned a corner with a string of solid outings in the season’s final two weeks. Unfortunately, Vujacic’s improved play was short-lived as he suffered a bad ankle sprain in the regular season finale against the Clippers that left him in street clothes during the first two rounds of the playoffs. Give Sasha credit for refusing to accept the fate of his poor season though as he returned with a vengeance (emotionally speaking, anyway) that led to an on-court sparring with Suns’ guard Goran Dragic in Game 6 of the Conference Finals. Despite bearing the wrath of his teammates over the incident, he maintained his composure when it mattered most in the Finals and his season ended on a memorable up-note.

PERFORMANCE OF THE SEASON:

It probably goes without saying at this point, but his two free throws to close out the Lakers’ sixteenth championship were just as important as Artest’s huge three-pointer and the team’s other clutch plays in the dramatic final minute of Game 7.

NEXT SEASON:

Kobe Bryant has notoriously come down hard on Vujacic throughout his Lakers tenure—not for his work ethic, but for his often-questionable decision-making on the court. In fact, if you ask any of his teammates, they will tell you that Sasha is one of the hardest working players on the team. While that has not led to consistent success in live games, “The Machine,” who is entering the final year of his contract, will once again look to prove his worth to the team in 2010-11.

“It’s no secret,” said Vujacic in a recent interview when discussing his contract status. “Not only for myself, but I really want to do good for the team. The team wants it.”

Looking ahead to next season, the hope is that Sasha will be able to harness the confidence gained from sinking the two biggest shots of his life into a renewed sense of consistency. The team expects Vujacic to play his usual brand of pesky defense, but if he wants to see extended playing time at either guard slot, he’ll need to improve his shot selection too. With the addition of Steve Blake, along with the anticipated signing of Derek Fisher and possible departure of Shannon Brown, Sasha will certainly have an opportunity to spell Kobe at the two spot. If the Lakers are not able to reach an agreement with Fisher, there will be an even greater need at backup point guard—a challenge Vujacic says he is ready to accept.

“I love it; I’m not going to lie to you,” said Vujacic about seeing more time at the point. “It’s a big responsibility…I’m up for the challenge.”

Regardless of the capacity in which he will be used next season, steady play from Sasha would go a long way toward reestablishing the bench mob that propelled the Lakers to a Finals run in 2008. Championship moxie is an underrated quality in the league and it is something that Vujacic can now lay claim to. Sasha’s primary task next season will be to find a way to translate that invaluable experience onto the court.