Once a Laker, always a Laker: Sasha Vujacic

After his hot time had somewhat declined (or maybe because of it), increasingly, and especially in Phil Jackson’s eyes, Vujacic started to show signs of not fitting well in the rotation. His quickness became his enemy, as he would crowd and foul the attacker too early, or release the ball in such a haste that his pinpoint accuracy from the three point line (Vujacic famously made six triples out of ten attempts during the 2006 Playoffs) started to be perceived as not so accurate anymore.

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In all fairness to the player, Sasha Vujacic has always been more of a free flowing spirit, with quick legs but in need of warming his shot in the court with minutes that Jackson could not or would not give him, favoring players who fitted the triangle offense better. Vujacic’s minutes took a dip during the next season, and along with them went his PPG stat: a mere 2.8 per game for the 2009-10 period with LA. Word around Laker camp for some time was that the team wanted to dump him along with his high salary of 5 million per year. The player too was definitely unhappy about his diminished role.

When asked about the almost certain departure from LA to NJ and his woes as benchwarmer, Vujacic was appalled. “It’s terrible. I’m 26 years old and I played a few years and the past couple of years, playing on and off, it was just killing me. We’ll see. If it happens, I want to double what I did in L.A.”

The Lakers front office managed to close the operation and sent him to a New Jersey Nets team with new ownership hungry for championship pedigree players, which had already acquired another notorious ex-Laker, Jordan Farmar. Sasha’s time in a New Jersey Nets uniform went up almost immediately, along with every category on his card. He matched his career high 22 points a few weeks after joining the Nets. He has, however, cooled off a bit after that.

After this sort of bittersweet departure from Lakerland, it is easy to lose focus of the huge contribution of the Slovenian to the consecutive championships of the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 and 2010. Game 6 last summer was a good example as many: Sasha led the Lakers’ bench with 9 points including two huge threes, and went on to drain those proverbial free throws Pau Gasol spoke about.

His fingerprint in the current Laker success can not and will not be erased. All Laker players and staff who showed their affection embracing Sasha warmly when they played against New Jersey recently know it. Sasha has been to war in purple and gold. And won the war. “No Laker fan will ever forget that.”

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