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.
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.
Another piece of disappointing news for the Warriors. Check out my thoughts on the NBA offseason thus far:
Brian Tung says
Come on, Sasha–let’s make it worthwhile to resurrect the Sasha Vujacic Fan Club!
I’m with Brian Tung.
I actually think Sasha has the chance to have a good year if things break his way in terms of minutes allocated. I think Phil has done a good job of showing him what he needs to do by keeping him on a short leash and by cutting his minutes when he showed some of his “wild” tendencies. Hopefully he actually has learned and he can be a productive contributor next season.
chris h says
read somewhere that Ronnie Turriaf was on the trading block for the warriors, what could we give them that could bring us Ronnie back?
He has been worthless his entire career save one halfway-decent year in his last contract season (imagine the odds of that). I cannot wait until he and his bonehead basketball IQ are gone next year to play in Europe so the he and Anna K can ride off into the sunset together!!!
This is a contract year for Sasha so I expect him to have a career year. Hope we don’t fall into this trap again as Sasha’s expiring contract has a double windfall this offseason in the event we have a lockout.
Sash is towards the top of my favorite players on the Lakers. I love his passion, energy, and enthusiasm, he just needs to harness it better. I’ve always been on his side, even when yelling at him (coaching, haha). I expect him to prove his worth this year and make us proud of the contract he may quite have not lived up to at this point.
Go get ’em Machine.
it’s been hard to be a fan of sasha. His huge ego dwarfs just about anything he’s done on the court. he frequently makes poor decisions that end up pissing off teammates and cries to referees way too much. that being said, there probably would be no ring this year without sasha. those were two extremely difficult and clutch shots. when he’s on, he’s got a great shot and can play pretty decent defense. as long as he’s a laker, i’d rather have a productive sasha. If Steve Blake works out, I would not be surprised if Sasha ends next year in a different uniform.
This is Sasha’s last year to prove his self w/ the Lakers. Believe it or not, Kobe is aging, and he has a lot of mileage on those legs. Kobe averaged 38.8 mpg this past season, up 2.7 mpg over his ’08-’09 season average of 36.1 mpg. Phil needs to monitor Kobe’s minutes better and if Sasha can average 14 mpg @ the 2 spot, it will make Phil’s job of keeping gym rat Kobe on the bench that much longer. I’d love to see Kobe’s minutes drop to 34 per game.
Do the math, if Kobe mpg is reduced by 4.8 mpg over 80 games that’s like 8 games off, sweet. That’s the type of math that will give our Lakers a great shot at our latest 3peat & title #17.
I’ve been up & down on Sasha or maybe it’s with Sasha. I think you have to mention the expiring contract as an asset here though. It’s potentially the most significant impact Sasha could make
Mihms the word says
@5 The Machine is not with Anna Kournikova, he is dating Maria Sharapova.
I like The Machine. Yeah he makes some bonehead moves on the court, but you can tell he wants to win and he puts in the effort in his off time to make himself better. He just needs to get some meaningful minutes (not garbage time) and hopefully he can help the team get some W’s…
Igor Avidon says
Sasha – the only Laker who can claim to match Lamar’s inconsistency. I love his passion but he can’t seem to focus well enough to channel it into consistently positive play. It would be great to see him give us good minutes (as expected in a contract year) but I don’t know if I want him re-signed for anything more than 2.5mil after this year.
My thoughts on Sasha:
If Simmons wasn’t a complete Celtic tool, I’d really enjoy his reading. With that, I give you a dang good read… ; )
@14- Love his little dig at Kobe winning the finals MVP. Can’t stand Bill Simmons.
I really like Sasha…just wish he would get more playing time and be more consistent when he does.
ESPN Radio LA was talking about a rumor that the Lakers were discussing sending Sasha and Luke Walton to Toronto for Hedo.
Hedo makes $32 over the next 3 years.
Luke is on the books for $16.75 over three, and Sasha is $5.5 for one. I suppose the theory is that Toronto saves $10 over 3 years ($5 each in 11-12 and 12-13) and that Luke can’t be too much worse for them than Hedo was.
While it would make sense for the Lakers – Hedo’s contract would fall into the same expiration year as everybody else on the roster and he does fill that SG/SF need the Lakers have off the bench – it does commit Sasha’s expiring salary to somebody else. I also can’t see Toronto moving a potential scoring threat now that they’re clearly losing Bosh without any compensation – even if the guy in question had turned into a pariah on the team.
Thoughts – even if it’s just a baseless rumor?
If there is any basis to this rumor, it means Lamar’s days are numbered (Turk w/ get his slot) in an additional trade, and that’s why this trade is hard to believe from a Laker prospective. That’s a lot of changes for a championship team. Blake, Turk, and another player to be named later would be part of the main 8 man rotation.
16. My take on that deal: If it got aired/ leaked before it actually happened, it’s probably not going to come true.
Regardless of that though, I think the Raptors could have found a better deal than what the Lakers are offering if this is true, but this could also be a case for them of getting ANYTHING at all in return for Hedo, who hasn’t really endeared himself to the organization/ fanbase with his antics last season (e.g. Partying while supposedly taking a game off from being “sick”).
For the Lakers perspective though, I’d think they’d do it, since I doubt anyone else would even take a good hard look at Luke.
I agree with the “trades that happen are usually out of the blue” theory. In fact, Darius did a whole section on that a couple days ago concerning the Bynum/Bosh speculation.
That being said, there is another side to it – which is that the team doing the prospective dumping (Toronto) leaks it in an effort to let the league know they’re willing to trade the guy for peanuts, “here’s a deal we’re considering, anybody want to make a slightly better offer?”
Brian P. says
Biggest problem with the Hedo trade would be we are VERY slim in the backcourt and trading Sasha doesn’t help that at all.
Only guard we currently have under contract are Kobe, Sasha, Blake……No guarantees on Brown and Fish. We don’t make that trade unless we shore up our guard position.
I heard LeBron James is a free agent this summer. Any news on him?
I like to have discussions about the big stories around the league and tonight, that means Lebron. We have a new thread up just so everyone can speculate for another hour or so before we all know what the deal really is.
It has just as much humour to keep the grown ups happy as it does the kids
I love the fact that Sasha is a Laker. He works hard and never fails from a lack of effort. I know he does fail through dumbness sometimes, but his heart and effort make me root for him.
Sasha could be damn useful and efficient. On offense, he just can’t over-dribble, ’cause that’s where everything breaks down for him.
He’s not somebody who can put the ball on the floor. Has to move off-ball for the quick catch-and-pop, catch-one-dribble-pop, catch-and-dish, catch-one-dribble-dish. PERIOD. To reiterate, PERIODDD.
We already know he can play great pesky defense with all that energy and hustle. The guy can be one of the best sharp shooters in the league. The Lakers already know he’s probably the best 3pt shooter on the team.
It’s so damned obvious. NO fancy bull crap coming from him. If he keeps it plain and simple, it’ll reduce his retarded turnovers and increase his shooting efficiency. As byproducts of this simple play, he’ll have increased confidence in himself and from teammates which leads to more touches and more shots, which leads to defenses respecting his shot, which frees up teammates down low for easy dishes, which results in Laker championship #17.
Somebody, PLEASE, explain this to Sasha and the Lakers organization! Seriously, PLEASE!
BTW, both Ebanks and Caracter, so far, are showing that they can play. GREAT value picks this year.
Mike N. says
I Think Sasha can be a very effective off the bench shooter and defender, He just needs to get that confidence that he had when he was givin the name the machine. but if a trade means bringing in a more consistent player Hmmmm