Sacre enjoying himself, not taking anything for granted

October, 14, 2012
10/14/12
12:32
AM PT
Shelburne By Ramona Shelburne
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
LOS ANGELES -- Robert Sacre was already on to the part where he needed to get his mind right to deal with all the sympathy texts. Missouri point guard Marcus Denmon had been chosen by the San Antonio Spurs, 59th overall in the 2012 NBA draft and the Los Angeles Lakers, a team he'd never even worked out for, had the last pick.

Sacre's one-year-old son Quinton was tired and ready for bed. His family had gathered at his grandparents' house in Villeplatte, Louisiana started getting concerned.

That's probably it, Sacre thought.

"But I figured I'd been watching for the last four and a half hours, might as well finish it out," Sacre said. "Mentally, I was already preparing for all the sympathy texts like, 'Don't worry, everything is going to be alright' and trying to get my head right."

And then he saw it. Or heard it. Who remembers the details now?

The Lakers took him with the 60th and last pick in the NBA draft.

In some snarky corners of the sports world, they call that distinction Mr. Irrelevant. But so far this preseason, Sacre has been anything but.

The 23-year-old rookie center from Gonzaga has started all three of the Lakers' preseason games in place of the injured Dwight Howard. Saturday night in the Lakers' 99-86 loss to the Utah Jazz he was far more than a place-holder, finishing with nine points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in 27 minutes.

"It's still pretty surreal," Sacre said. "I'm not even going to lie. All the stars are aligning for some reason.

"I'm starting. And when I look around, there's Hall of Famers on either side of me."

This won't last of course. Howard should be back in the next few weeks. So will Jordan Hill. And even if Howard takes a while to round into shape, Lakers coach Mike Brown has indicated he'd start Pau Gasol at center in a regular season game, not Sacre.

But for a guy who began his professional career bracing for the worst, things have taken a pretty nice turn.

"I'm not going to hold my breath because anything can happen," Sacre said, when asked if he thought he would make the Lakers' roster. "But I know I can play with these guys now. I think that's the biggest thing I've been able to show."

This would all be another nice training camp story if there wasn't a very compelling reason for the Lakers to keep Sacre and several other young players this season.

With starters Kobe Bryant ($27.8 million), Howard ($19.5 million), Gasol ($19 million), Steve Nash ($8.9 million) and Metta World Peace ($7.2 million) taking up $82.4 million of the Lakers already-bloated $99.2 million guaranteed payroll, you have to think the organization will look to cut costs where it can. And in the NBA, younger is almost always cheaper.

Sacre would make just $473,604 if he makes the team and plays a full season. Second-year point guard Darius Morris, whom Brown said has been impressive in camp thus far and played almost 19 minutes in Saturday's loss, will make $962,195. Second-year guard Andrew Goudelock would make $762,195 if he makes the team and plays a full season.

Is Sacre the best they could do for front court depth? Not when veterans like Craig Smith and Kenyon Martin are still available. But when we're talking about a player who will probably play only five-10 minutes a game in a regular season, how much does that difference really matter?

It's why ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported Friday that the Lakers are listening to offers for backup point guards Chris Duhon and Steve Blake. Both are quality backups. But if Morris can be counted on, do they really want to pay them a combined $7.5 million this year?

And even if it does matter some, there's something to be said for finding good young players who can be molded within the organization on rookie-scale contracts for a few years.

"I told Kobe that he's really going to like him," Lakers forward Metta World Peace said of Sacre. "I played with him this summer and it was like, 'Who is this kid?'

"He can roll, he can shoot, he can open the floor up by hitting those little shots that are difficult to hit. He's really good at those. He has really good touch."

Said Bryant: "He's a very smart player, so he's able to read the defense, and read how they're playing Steve, how they're reading me. He's able to get himself in positions to be successful. He made plays for others as well making plays for himself. Rebounding. He's doing a fantastic job. I'm pleasantly surprised in what we have in him."

Brown wasn't ready to say Sacre would make the team, but it's hard to overlook how solid he has been in a difficult role thus far.

"I thought Sacre was solid," Brown said. "He didn't try to do anything outside of the norm. He didn't try to do too much. He just used his big body. He made some rookie mistakes. But he's earned his minutes by keeping it simple and trying to fit in."

Sacre credited Gonzaga coach Mark Few for helping him learn to stay within himself and former Gonzaga star Ronny Turiaf for giving him a taste of the NBA over the years.

Not bad for a guy whose career began as Mr. Irrelavant.

"I'm the 60th pick and I'm on a great team. How can you really complain?" Sacre said. "I could be in a lot worse places. I'm playing in the NBA, I'm the last pick, I'm playing with great guys I can always learn from. It's a dream come true."

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Nick Young
PTS AST STL MIN
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 7.4
AssistsK. Bryant 6.3
StealsK. Bryant 1.2
BlocksW. Johnson 1.0