The last three seasons have been a professional and emotional roller coaster for the Machine. In 2008, he worked his way into the good graces of Phil Jackson and subsequently, the Lakers’ rotation as Kobe’s primary backup. He did so by becoming a reliable knock-down shooter from beyond the arc and by adopting a gritty defensive style that took no prisoners. Sasha even played heavy minutes in the NBA Finals that year, contributing 20 points (7-10) in 28 minutes in Game 3 at home to help the Lakers get their first win of the series. However, for whatever reason, during the 2008-2009 campaign, he basically fell off the face of the purple and gold Earth. Granted, he battled through a couple of injury setbacks, but for the most part, Sasha was caught up in the midst of a major slump on the court.
Having contributed close to nothing towards the 2009 NBA title won against the Orlando Magic, the Machine found himself in Phil Jackson’s dog house entering the 2009-2010 season. In 67 games played this past regular season, he only averaged 8.6 minutes per contest and scored at a menial rate of 2.8 points per game. Simply put, things were not looking nearly as impressive as his girlfriend, tennis superstar, Maria Sharapova. However, in the Western Conference Finals against dynamic players such as Goran Dragic, the matchup dicatated that Phil call number 18 to the court, and in the ever so crucial Game 5, Sasha locked his former Slovenian national teammate down and effectively got inside his head. That mind game however, got the best of Kobe’s “little brother” in Game 6 when he nearly cost the Lakers a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter by launching an elbow straight into Dragic’s jaw as a result of some good old trash talking after which point, Goran went on a 6-0 run to cut the deficit in half. I’d say he owes Kobe a hefty dinner at the very least for single-handedly stymying the Suns’ near comeback.
Oddly enough, during the 2010 NBA Finals, Sasha played a decent amount of minutes as Phil once again looked to him to stick Ray Allen so that Derek Fisher could get adequate breathers during such an intense series. He had one of his stronger games of significance in a long time in Game 6 with nine points (2-4 from deep), one steal, and solid defense on the perimeter. Despite his near (professionally) fatal gaffe against Dragic, I’m going to give Sasha a grade of C- because through all of the bickering with PJ and his slump, he seemingly kept his head in the game and when his services were called upon in critical situations, he stepped in and did the job that was asked of him. Entering the final year of his contract, it will be interesting to see if the Lakers retain the $5 million that he’s owed next season or if he’ll be moved as a part of some deal to address other roster needs.
Next: Jordan Farmar…