Los Angeles Lakers: Sasha Vujacic

Four! Swaggy P's scoring feat

December, 27, 2013
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
SALT LAKE CITY -- Nick Young might be the unofficial NBA leader when it comes to sheer "swag," but there is an actual statistical category that Young is the league leader in: 4-point plays.

[+] EnlargeNick Young
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsNick Young has had an uncanny ability to draw fouls when he shoots a 3-pointer, but lately it has been a rash of them.
Young has four 4-point plays on the season, made possible when a player makes a 3-pointer as he's being fouled and then hits the ensuing free throw, which doubles Stephen Curry, Kyle Korver and Anthony Morrow who are all tied for second with two apiece.

Young recently had a stretch of three 4-point plays in four games from Dec. 20-25, something no player had accomplished since Jamal Crawford did it in March 2009 for the Golden State Warriors, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Crawford happens to be the league's all-time leader in the quirky stat.

"Well, that's one of our goals," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni deadpanned when asked about Young's 4-point feat.

Young now has eight 4-point plays in his seven-year career.

"It is uncanny," D'Antoni said. "Some guys have it. I think Jamal Crawford has that. There's a few guys that can do that. I don't know how they do it. I couldn't make an open 3 just by myself. How they can draw the foul and be able to make it is a mystery. But he does have that ability."

Young's four 4-point plays have already set a Lakers franchise record for most in a season. When asked before the Lakers played the Utah Jazz on Friday if he could guess the four other players in Lakers history to have two or more 4-points plays in a season (since 1978-79 and including playoffs), Young was able to guess three of them -- Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Eddie Jones -- and needed help from teammate Jordan Farmar to get the fourth (Sasha Vujacic).

What does Farmar think about Young's 4-point ways?

"You don't see it often, so when you see it four times in a season, five times in a season -- however many times he's done it -- you notice," Farmar said. "You pay attention."

Then Farmar revealed the secret behind Young's 4-point success.

"He shoots it normal and then just, 'Ahhhh!' " Farmar said with a laugh as he contorted his body in exaggerated fashion to simulate how Young reacts to contact when he shoots beyond the arc.

Has Steve Blake rediscovered his game?

April, 12, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
Over the last week, Lakers headlines have been dominated by issues like Kobe Bryant's shin, otherworldly rebounding from Andrew Bynum, a string of quality performances from Metta World Peace, and the implications of a 20-point loss to Phoenix and a 14-point win over San Antonio, both with The Mamba wearing a well-tailored suit. Such talking points would always feel trenchant, and with the playoffs lurking, the urgency is magnified tenfold. In the meantime, another notable development has surfaced almost entirely absent of hype. Compared to the previously mentioned story lines, under-the-radar status for this trend is understandable, but it nonetheless shouldn't be mistaken as trivial.

Win McNamee/Getty Images
Not a Photoshopped picture: Steve Blake did actually execute this finger roll.

Quietly and by any measuring stick, Steve Blake, who's suffered through a largely disappointing season, has played two very good games in a row.

From a statistical standpoint, his numbers are much improved. Over the last two games, he's averaged nine points (53.8 percent from the field/60 percent from deep), 3.5 assists, 2.5 rebounds, and .5 turnovers in 28.5 minutes. The stats aren't necessarily eye-popping, but they're perfectly fine from a backup point guard. And against the backdrop of his overall April splits (5.4 ppg, 41.4 FG, 41.2 3pt, 3.0 apg, 1.3 rpg, 1.1 TO), they're practically a revelation. While fellow reserve Matt Barnes has insisted the Lakers bench shouldn't be judged by scoring totals, this entire season has served as proof of how hamstrung the starters become without consistent support. In particular, Blake's cupboard has been bare. Nobody would reasonably expect a dude with a 6.9 ppg career-average to reinvent himself as a purple and gold James Harden, but some firepower off the pine is mandatory. For at least two games, Blake's brought a gun to a gunfight.

Blake's also managed to impact games beyond his numbers. In New Orleans, a pair of charges were drawn and he not only tracked down an otherwise certain turnover, but managed to huck the ball while airborne to Ramon Sessions. The possession ended with Barnes scoring at the rim, but Blake enabled the basket, even as the only principal who didn't enter the box score on the sequence. Against the Spurs, he prevented a fast break by hustling back on transition, squaring up Stephen Jackson and getting his mitts on the ball. Slowed by Blake, Jackson had to take the ball out, and the ensuing possession came up dry.

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I eagerly look forward to the day when PodKasts aren't focused on the lockout or lockout-related developments. Sadly, that day remains on the distant horizon. Still, a conversation with ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard is always enjoyable, and we fired up the "Sasha Vujacic in the South Bay" clip, which never gets old. Never accuse the K Brothers of not trying to make NBA limbo as much fun as possible.

Click this tab to hear the show, and below is the rundown:

-- Kobe Bryant reportedly has an offer from Virtus Bologna in Italy to join their squad. Is this good idea? For all the reasons Brian listed and more, I agree it's an opportunity (of sorts) Bryant should decline. Granted, I think the odds of him actually taking the offer are slim to begin with.

-- Speaking of Lakers with outside-the-box athletic opportunities, Metta World Peace stunk up the joint on "Dancing With The Stars." In our conversation before a recent practice, he seemed much more confident and, quite frankly, competent in his dancing skills. But just like Vujacic was an "11 a.m. shooter," MWP is apparently an "11 a.m. dancer."

-- With those matters chopped up, we got an update from Broussard on the labor negotiations. As he shares, aside from the basketball related income percentages, the question of a hard or soft cap, and revenue sharing among owners, all the loose ends have been tied up. In other words, the scheduled Nov. 1 start to the regular season is in serious jeopardy.

-- On a positive note, Broussard thinks decertification remains a decided last option for the players' union, despite a handful of powerful agents pushing hard.

-- It's important to remember the recently canceled preseason games and delayed training camps were expected developments on both sides. And in terms of the bigger picture, willingly accepted. Not that either situation is ideal, but as Broussard confirms, neither points to the entire season potentially lost. (For those keeping score, Chris thinks we'll eventually end up with a 50-ish game season.)

-- In discussing Bryant and Italy, Broussard raises an excellent point. Virtus Bologna makes a big splash just by having their team associated with Kobe, much less signing him. Similar to the Besiktas hoopla, this is as much about publicity as earnest hope to land The Mamba. The offer may be legitimately on the table, but we're a long way from Kobe donning a Virtus jersey.

-- Like me, Broussard took issue with the question examined in a recent Triangle (whether the NBA now "belongs to" Kevin Durant). From Chris' perspective, the league has never in its entire history belonged to any one player other than during Michael Jordan's prime.

Sasha Vujacic to Turkey is bad for the Lakers

July, 18, 2011
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
Heading into the weekend, former Lakers shooting guard Sasha Vujacic, a free agent at the end of the 2011 season, signed a deal to play in Turkey. There appears to be some question as to whether or not the deal includes an out clause allowing Vujacic a return to the NBA when the lockout ends, but there's certainly a chance it doesn't, particularly since the contract contains an option for a second season.

Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images
Former Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic is heading to Istanbul (not Constantinople).

Should that be the case, it would be bad news for the Lakers. Not because they lost out on a guy they badly want -- despite needing a shooter, I doubt seriously the Lakers would bring Vujacic back, though you might be surprised how many notes we get hoping they would (apparently absence makes the heart, if not grow fonder, at the very least forget all the things that used to tick it off) -- but because of what it might represent. No matter how the new CBA is constructed, the Lakers will have limited flexibility financially to address a variety of needs.

In the backcourt, and particularly at the point, the free-agent pool is thin. Losing players like Vujacic, in the tier of of player the Lakers can likely afford, only further weakens the class, driving up demand/price on a smaller pool of remaining options.

Speaking Sunday to a free agent with NBA experience but a long track record playing overseas and no guarantee of a roster spot in the Association, he said the temptation to jump on an offer in Europe or Asia and lock in a paycheck is strong. Out clauses are ideal, but can't always be had, and for many players business considerations could at some point trump the preference to stay stateside.

For all the talk of big name players following the Deron Williams model, assuming no Lakers join him, there's no practical impact for L.A.'s 2011-12 roster. (Unless someone backs the EuroBrinks truck up to Kobe Bryant's front door with an offer substantive enough to offset the costs of the insurance required to protect the $85 million or so remaining on his contract, I don't think he'll go.) But if more lower-level, lower-income players fear a potentially protracted work stoppage and accept deals overseas sans out clauses, it'll squeeze the less glamorous portion of the eventual free-agent market.

Otherwise known as where the Lakers will do most of their shopping.

The triumphant and tragic unpredictability of sports

May, 9, 2011
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
For all parties involved -- fans, media, and especially, the Lakers themselves -- Sunday's 122-86 loss to the Dallas Mavericks was a sucker punch finale to a season steeped in misdirection. The preseason favorite among pundits and General Managers, an underwhelming regular season left the Lakers no longer regarded as bullet proof entering the playoffs, but still a force to be reckoned with. The first round created more doubts, and believing meant also buying into an exceptionally difficult path, despite home-court advantage in the West unexpectedly regained.

But not even the most skeptical Lakers fans (or zealous Mavericks fans) can honestly claim to have foreseen the bodies left for dead in Dallas. It's one thing to get upset. It's quite another to get swept, and in fashion even the "Jail Blazer" squads would have deemed classless. The world Lakers fans knew has steadily spiraled in an unfamiliar direction, and by Sunday's end, had been turned completely upside down.

It hasn't been a pleasant 24 hours, but this disaster served as a painful reminder of what ultimately makes sports so compelling: Unpredictability.

Nobody truly knows what's coming next in sports. Not the fans. Not the "experts." Not the players.

Over the last four seasons, unpredictability has been at the center of the Lakers' highest, lowest and most surprising points. The inedible memories, soaring or sour.

Unpredictability is Kobe Bryant looking happier and coming into his own as a leader in 2008 perhaps more than any other year, despite the season beginning with him wanting to play anywhere but in L.A.

Unpredictability was 2008 marking the franchise's return to powerhouse form, despite skepticism at the season's outset about even making the playoffs. Unpredictability was also a reminder that waltzing through three conference series means nothing in regard to what happens in the Finals.

Unpredictability is Pau Gasol coming to L.A. out of nowhere in exchange for a player 10 times worse.

Unpredictability is why Gasol can shift from being emasculated by the Celtics in 2008 to becoming a rebounding machine against those same Celtics in 2010 to morphing mysteriously into a ghost during a bizarrely ineffective 2011 playoffs.

Unpredictability is why we believe Bryant can still make impossible shots at will in the face of tangible evidence his proficiency as an assassin is slipping.

Unpredictability is Shannon Brown, despite evidence of being too raw and inexperienced, arriving as a self-proclaimed trade "thrown in" and immediately entering a title-run rotation, while Steve Blake can arrive as a perfect fit on paper yet struggle to make an impact.

Unpredictability is why Lamar Odom can age like fine wine and enjoy his best season as a 12-year veteran, which simply defies logic. Unpredictability is also why the long-elusive consistency discovered this season failed to translate during the payoffs.

Unpredictability is Andrew Bynum suddenly emerging in 2007 as a potential franchise cornerstone. Unpredictability is also knees constantly at risk to buckle, providing doubt about whether Drew can truly be built around.

Unpredictability is Bynum demonstrating maturity by wholeheartedly embracing a defense-oriented role. Unpredictability is also Bynum's penchant for immature and dangerous cheap shots when he's upset.

Unpredictability is Ron Artest inheriting the title "goat," then "hero" during Game 5 of against Western Conference finals against the Suns, all within the span of a minute.

Unpredictability is why Artest can defy his reputation by remaining the calmest Laker during Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, yet reinforce his reputation with a senseless flagrant foul during Game 2 of the 2011 Western Conference semifinals.

Unpredictability is a crucial basket from Derek Fisher at the rim, not beyond the arc.

Unpredictability is Sasha Vujacic scoring the final two points to clinch the Lakers' 16th championship.

Unpredictability is the simultaneously thrilling, fascinating and frustrating way Kobe is impossible to pin down.

Unpredictability is why emotionally investing in a team sometimes feels as painful as any life event beyond literal life and death.

Unpredictability is why, despite how disappointed, disillusioned or angry Lakers fans might feel right now, next season is a must to watch.

Podcast: On "Black Swan," happy road trips, and a fibbing Sasha

February, 12, 2011
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
It's time for fresh audio!

In the newest installment of the show, Andy and I hit the studio Friday morning in the wake of L.A.'s big win Thursday night against the Celtics in Boston. It was an important evening, building on two other solid efforts kicking off the trip (and made even better with Friday's dusting of the Knicks at the Garden). Does finally getting that "signature victory" this season end all the trade talk? Should it? We dive into all the reasons the Lakers might have to make a deal, and sort the good from the bad.

Andy and Brian talk about the Lakers' improved play, blockbuster trade philosophies and Pau Gasol's black swan transformation. Oh, and Sasha says he can put up 20-30 points a night easily, but he's just not interested.

Podcast Listen
One thing is certain: Fear of a starless future after Kobe eventually declines is a horrible reason to make a potentially franchise altering move right now. The expiration date on 24, as evidenced by Bryant's performance last night, is still far enough away to allow a little flexibility.

From there, it's on to improvement from Pau Gasol in the wake of Kobe's "black swan" pep talk, now playing much more like the November edition of himself, the one some considered an MVP candidate. In six games this month, Pau is shooting over 62 percent, scoring 22 points, hauling down nearly 10 boards, and delivering 1.5 blocks a night. He's not the team's best player, but often it's the second and third guys in a team's hierarchy determining who wins in June. This is the Gasol the Lakers need going forward.

From there (around the 18 minute mark), Andy and I get into the quote of the year, from former Laker Sasha Vujacic, who set a career high this week with 25 points as the Nets beat New Orleans 103-101. To say the least, his performance left him feeling... emboldened: “I know I can score 20 or 30 points anytime I want," Vujacic said to the New Jersey Star-Ledger. “But I’m not that kind of a guy. I want to win. I want to play the right way. Some games I’m going to get 10 shots, some games 15 shots; sometimes, especially coming off the bench, you’re going to feel cold, and you need time to get in the rhythm. But right now, what I care the most is for us to become a better team. And we are really capable of doing that."

We're both happy Sasha has found success with the Nets, but really, dude? Really? The amount of places upon which a person could call horsepucky regarding that statement is nearly infinite. 20 or 30 anytime you want? Slow down, Sasha.

Finally, we cap it with a few thoughts on Jerry Sloan's departure from Utah.

Lakers 100, Nets 88: Postgame video

January, 15, 2011
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
After reading Brian's postgame analysis, take in a few talkies...

Brook Lopez's 35 points obviously pop out in the box score, but from Lamar Odom's perspective, the center didn't "control" the game, which is why the Lakers were able to withstand his performance.

With the Clippers on deck for Sunday, Lamar Odom talked about Blake Griffin."Awesome player," gushed the southpaw. "Awesome entertainer. Awesome basketball player." The athletic freak has whipped the basketball community into a frenzy, but is he special enough to change the culture that is the Los Angeles Clippers? LO thinks the potential is there, but others beyond the likely Rookie of the Year will need to step up as well. Bottom line, without the requisite wins, this is mission impossible for Griffin regardless of how well he plays.

It's a familiar scenario for Lamar, drafted in 1999 by the Clippers with these same hopes. Punches weren't pulled about how "off the court" issues messed up his crack at the perennially impossible dream. But, as he noted, everything happens for a reason, and it's hard to criticize Lamar's career path.

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Lakers vs. Nets: What to watch, with Nets Are Scorching

January, 14, 2011
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
Before the Lakers can fast forward to Sunday's game against the suddenly hot Clippers or Monday's big game at home against the Thunder, there's the little matter of the New Jersey Nets. The 10-28 Nets, losers of eight of their last 10, and 18 of 21 road games overall.

They are not good, but are still at least somewhat interesting thanks to the presence of Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar, both of whom make their first appearances at Staples since being traded earlier this season and signing with the Nets last summer, respectively. For the Lakers, winning the game involves repeating the things allowing them to win their last six games. Move the ball, use the bigs, play some defense, pay attention. For the Nets, it's a little more complicated.

To gain a little more insight, I hit up Mark Ginocchio, of TrueHoop's Nets Are Scorching to answer a few questions...

New Jersey Nets guard Sasha Vujacic talks about returning to Los Angeles along with Jordan Farmar, to face their former team, the Lakers, for the first time since being traded earlier in the season.

" Podcast Listen
1) Sasha Vujacic's career in L.A. was decidedly a mixed bag. In Jersey, he's getting playing time he never got here. How has he fit in with the team and with fans? How is Avery Johnson using him on the floor, and what impact does it have?

Sasha's quick ascent with the Nets has really been amazing and surprised a lot of people. A lot of Nets fans were bummed because of outside of the draft picks, Vujacic was the only tangible player the team received for Terrence Williams - a guy who's got boatloads of talent, but just can't seem to put it together (and hasn't yet in Houston). The Nets version of Sasha has been a tenacious defender, a very good long-ranger shooter (40 percent from three) and a clutch player with one game-winning shot already on his NJ resume. As our playbook specialist Justin DeFeo pointed out in December, Sasha has added a new element on offense as being really the only guy
on this team who can effectively curl off screens and drain a jump shot.

2) Jordan Farmar and Sasha weren't necessarily seen as best buddies in L.A., but obviously know each other's games well. Have you seen any evidence of constructive on-floor chemistry between the two?

Yeah, I've heard some buzz about the Farmar/Sasha issues when he arrived here, but I've honestly haven't seen or heard anything since the trade to suggest that anything has carried over. With that said, I can't really claim to see any great chemistry developing there, just because the Sasha trade also reignited a lot of the Carmelo Anthony trade rumors that really seem to be dragging this team down as a unit. I don't know if any of these guys are demonstrating chemistry right now, regardless of their histories.

New Jersey Nets head coach Avery Johnson talks about coaching a young team in the midst of a whirlwind of trade rumors and says that if Lakers forward Lamar Odom does not make the All Star team, then the selection process as we know it needs to be scrapped completely.

" Podcast Listen
3) The Nets gave the Lakers problems in New Jersey, but have been a hideous road team. What has to happen for them to win Friday?

Well, going back to my prior answer, I think the 'Melo stuff is really hitting a breaking point with this team, so I'm not terribly confident in the Nets executing enough to pull an upset. There are eight guys on this roster that could be told to pack their bags at any given minute and while the team looked relatively focused against Phoenix on Wednesday, they still blew a double digit fourth quarter lead and lost in OT. The last time the Nets won in LA, they had Kidd-Carter-Jefferson and the Lakers did not have Pau Gasol.

But for fun, I'll say if Devin Harris goes for a big night (say 30-plus points and 12 assists) and a combination of Stephen Graham and Sasha can hound Kobe into a poor shooting night, AND the Nets get a big game from someone in their frontcourt (either Travis Outlaw or Derrick Favors), they might make it close.

Thanks again to Mark for weighing in.
Friday's contest against the New Jersey Nets features the return of two former Lakers, Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic, a wrinkle that could add some emotion to an otherwise (theoretically) lopsided contest. Farmar already competed against the Lakers in Newark, but this will be his first time doing battle in Staples Center, and he'll receive a ring to boot. (Another pregame presentation, like when D.J. Mbenga got his ring before the game against the Hornets.) Throw in Farmar's "hometown" factor and the atmosphere could be pretty charged for the point guard.

If Jordan's emotions are at a "nine" on a scale of 1-10, Sasha could very well clock in around "274." This will be his first time playing against the only other team's he's known since entering the league in 2004. Sasha truly loved being a Laker and even though his dwindling PT made his trade to Jersey a welcome event, that doesn't change the feelings he'll likely always have towards this franchise. Plus, as I always note, players often want to blow up their old squads. And at the risk of stating the absurdly obvious, Sasha has a tendency to be tightly wound.

I asked Phil Jackson if he had any idea expectations for Sasha's mood on Friday. With his voice slightly emotional, he acknowledged the human element, noting how Jordan and "Aleksander" will obviously want to play well against the Lakers.

For those who aren't aware, "Sasha" is actually Aleksander Vujacic's nickname, and I found it touching Jackson was compelled to use his former player's given name, which I've never heard him do. Even more than the memories kindly shared about Vujacic's time in L.A., praise for Sasha's work ethic and hope for future success, "Aleksander" caught my ear because it felt like a sign of respect and affection.

I was reminded of a great exchange on "MASH," when Radar O'Reilly (a youngster never referred to any way other than "Radar") says his goodbyes to the other characters before going home. He eventually bids farewell to Major Winchester, a snobby blue blood who has mocked the corporal's small town roots on several occasions. Radar wishes Winchester the best of luck, and Winchester replies, "Thank you, Walter."

The moment wasn't lost on Radar as Winchester walks away, and it didn't feel any less symbolic from Sasha's former coach.

Like Winchester, Phil Jackson has a big ego and a penchant for tweaking those around him. But for all the times PJ has used the media to zing his players, sometimes mercilessly, there's a reason players generally enjoy time under him: He bothers trying to understand them. Sasha's high strung, follicle-obsessed nature made him an exceptionally easy target for teasing by teammates, fans and the Kamenetzky brothers (who practically owe the guy a royalty check). But generally speaking, Vujacic escaped Phil's tongue, which I always took as recognition of the danger in pressing a sensitive kid's buttons too often, particularly after he fell out of the rotation. And at the end of the day, the shooter's dedication to basketball earned his respect, if not his continued trust on the floor.

In recounting his conversation with Sasha about being traded, Jackson said he told Sasha he'd "always going to be family" to him. Hearing him refer to the player as "Aleksander" feels like an extension of that sentiment.

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Lakers week in preview: Jan 10-16

January, 10, 2011
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
The holidays have come and gone, but it's finally beginning to look a lot like Christmas for Lakers fans. L.A. has won four straight, most recently Sunday's thrashing of the Knicks, and six of seven overall, and look like a different team than the one taking it on the chin at home last week against the Grizzlies. More aware, more committed to tasks at hand.

Not to say the Lakers have hit their championship stride yet, but it appears they've finally started running.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Welcome to the (double-double) machine.

Still, while the Lakers are unquestionably playing better ball, the schedule maker has still been relatively kind during this winning stretch. Take away a legitimately dangerous Knicks team and you're left with home dates against the Sixers and Pistons, two against a New Orleans squad that isn't a pushover but is also 11-15 following an 11-1 start to the season, a game in sagging Phoenix. Not a run of pushovers, but hardly Murderer's Row, either.

Things will get tough fast, though, in the very near future, which is why this week's slate of games -- all against teams wallowing well under .500 -- is so important. The Lakers need to keep momentum heading into the teeth of their calendar, but also can't afford to give away any games against a shrinking pool of, to use Ron Artest's description of the Pistons, "under average" opponents. It's a busy week with four games, but by all rights the Lakers ought finish it with four wins.

Here's how it lays out:


Sunday at (as it were) the Clippers, 12:30 p.m. PT

Or, if you prefer, the L.A. Blake Griffins. With 23 points and 12 rebounds in the LAC's 105-91 win over Golden State Sunday afternoon, the top pick in last year's draft ran his streak of consecutive double-doubles to 23. On the season, Griffin is averaging almost 22 points and 13 rebounds, while shooting 52 percent from the floor and adding an impressive 3.3 assists. Forget "pretty good for a rookie," these are big numbers for anyone.

In the process, he's managed to do all sorts of amazing things:

1. Make anything Clipper-related relevant on a national level again. Usually cast in the Washington Generals role on the evening highlight shows, Griffin has single-handedly increased the number of positive LAC clips by a factor of about eleventy billion. He will be rookie of the year, he will almost surely win the slam dunk contest, and -- beyond the rookie/sophomore game, could very well make the All-Star team, too. People check in on the Clippers for reasons beyond lawsuits and draft lotteries.

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ESPNLA.com's The Triangle Video

December, 17, 2010

Brian Kamenetzky, Ramona Shelburne, and Beto Duran discuss the state of the Lakers on The Triangle.

This week's topics include a stiffening schedule for the Lakers- should they still be considered the prohibitive favorites for the Western Conference's top seed? From there, it's the impact of Andrew Bynum's return, and the vision of Mitch Kupchak.

Sasha Vujacic traded to the Nets, Joe Smith incoming

December, 15, 2010
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
From the outset of this season, it's been obvious if the Lakers were going to trade anybody, it would be Sasha Vujacic. He's in the last year of a moderately priced contract. An injury or a severe slump from a Killer Bee would be required to crack the rotation. And the lack of future as a Laker beyond 2011 is plainly evident. The problem was finding a workable deal. The Lakers understandably have no desire to take on additional salary, which means facilitating a deal with a team under the cap or bringing in a third team, which can be complicated.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Image
Sasha was every bit as happy about his situation this season as he looks here.

To paraphrase Han Solo as he's about to enter an asteroid field, never tell Mitch Kupchak the odds. He took the latter route, and managed to find the right formula. According to ESPN.com, Sasha will head to the New Jersey Nets along with a future first round pick in exchange for veteran big man Joe Smith. They'll also receive second round picks from Golden State (2011) and Chicago (2012), plus the rights to Ukrainian big man Sergei Lishouk, originally drafted by Memphis in 2004. (As part of the deal, the troubled Terence Williams heads from Jersey to Houston in exchange for another first round pick, fueling speculation the Nets are stockpiling draft assets to entice a trade for Carmelo Anthony. )

So how did the Lakers and Vujacic make out? In my mind, both parties come out ahead in the wash.

I'll start with the Laker haul. Smith makes the veteran's minimum and his arrival is as much -- more, really -- about saving approximately nine million bucks (counting the luxury tax hit). This cash off Dr. Buss' books can only enhance the odds of resigning Shannon Brown and/or Matt Barnes, should they opt out as anticipated if their strong seasons continue. Or make quality replacements more feasibly inked, should both bolt. Either way, money was a driving element.

From a basketball perspective, I pegged Smith during the summer as a sensible acquisition to play the D.J. Mbenga/Josh Powell role. Recent campaigns in New Jersey and Atlanta hint he's no longer the player he was a few seasons ago, much less the guy the Wolves risked their entire franchise to pay under the table. But assuming Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom stay healthy, Smith won't be asked to do much besides enhance practices and provide his famously good locker room presence. Should periodic frontcourt injuries surface, Smith will be asked to provide what Theo Ratliff offered before getting hurt: A breather for the bigs in the rotation, veteran smarts and a willingness to do what he's told.

If more is asked for over long stretches, the Lakers are likely in deep trouble, but that's more about the A-list talent lost than Smith's inadequacies. But in a pinch, he can probably get by and I doubt a better option would have been available within the same cost-effective parameters.

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20 Games Down: Lakers Quarterly Report Card

December, 6, 2010
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
If your high school was anything like mine, you got your big report cards at the end of each semester, plus two progress reports in between, at the end of the first and third quarters. With Friday night's win, the Lakers are now 14-6, 20 games into an 82-game season, about as close to a quarter of the way through as can be. Used to be I'd try to beat the our neighborhood postman home, in an effort to intercept any bad news before my parents popped open the mailbox.

Well, there's none of that chicanery where Internet report cards are concerned.

How do the Lakers stack up? Time to find out who's in trouble, and who gets his marks posted on the fridge at home.


(Note: Players are graded against their own capabilities and expectations. Kobe Bryant, for example, is held to a different standard than Theo Ratliff. And I consider "C" to be average. None of this gradeflation nonsense.)


Phil Jackson: For the most part, he's managed minutes well, and shown great flexibility in his lineups along with a willingness to sit established players down the stretch in favor of deserving reserves. Note the amount of games Derek Fisher and Ron Artest have finished on the bench in favor of important minutes for Shannon Brown, Matt Barnes, and Steve Blake. No playing favorites. Defensively, the Lakers have slipped some from last season, though it's hard to pin exactly how much of that is based on coaching. Overall, I like the tone Jackson has set this year, diffusing early talk of his "last stand" without ignoring it.

Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire
Lamar Odom has been a rock for the Lakers this season. A productive- and consistent- rock.

My only major criticism: Something needed to be done faster to cut down on Gasol's minutes. If signing another player wasn't in the cards, Jackson needed to suck it up and play Derrick Caracter more, even if it hurt the on-court product, which it almost certainly would. He's talked about doing it a lot, but in practice it hasn't happened. Would three or four more minutes for the rookie have prevented Gasol's hammy problem? Who knows, but it couldn't have hurt.



Lamar Odom: As a long time supporter of Odom's value, I've frequently recommended those who lament his inconsistency focus on the big picture, appreciating what L.O. does rather than what he doesn't. This season, there's been no need to defend him at all. Odom has played arguably the best basketball of his career, averaging 15.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 3.5 assists a night while shooting nearly 58 percent. After slacking a little last season, this year Odom has been a +/- force, is tied for eighth in the NBA in double-doubles, and more than anything, has been consistent. Only three games with single digit scoring, no game with fewer than seven rebounds, 18 with eight or more.

He has managed to distinguish himself at an All-Star level on a team with Bryant and Pau Gasol, no easy task.


Pau Gasol: For 14 games, Gasol was almost absurdly good, to the point some were wondering if he could break out of Kobe's shadow and become an MVP candidate. Such thinking was a little too aggressive, but when a guy puts up the numbers he produced- like the "perfect game" Nov. 21 vs. Golden State, where Gasol was 10-of-10 from the floor and hit all eight of his freebies for 28 points- it's hard not to go there. Then came a mini-slump, a five game stretch including his four lowest scoring games of the season, and a precipitous drop in field goal percentage. Why he fell off isn't hard to diagnose- before Friday's 27 minute rest fest he'd piled up a ton of minutes and earned a balky left hammy for his troubles.

Still, though the numbers were even more garish 10 days ago, Gasol leads the league in double-doubles, and is averaging 20.2 points, 11.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 2.1 blocks a night. Plus, the disparity in his team's play when Gasol is on the floor vs. when he's not is incredible. He's struggled a little against size here and there, but overall it's hard to ding him for such a small number of genuinely poor games.


Kobe Bryant: He spent most of early November encouraging the media not to ask him incessantly about his surgically repaired right knee, but we didn't cooperate. So he changed strategies, posting a few games making him look awfully healed in which he orchestrated the action on the floor, kept everyone involved, and generally greased the wheels of an incredibly productive Lakers offense. Like Gasol, though, Bryant's run has waned over more games. He was effective and efficient Friday against the Kings (everyone who played was, more or less), but heading into the game had been mired in a fairly deep shooting slump, dragging his overall shooting numbers below, in some cases well below, his career norms. On the other hand, he's getting to the FT line more this season than last (a good sign), has an assist rate right in line with career norms, and his PER is as high as it's been since '06-'07.

Besides, numbers don't always tell the story of Kobe's play, but measured against the appropriately high standard of his own ability, he hasn't been overwhelming. Still good, but slower after a strong start. The good news is the Lakers don't need him to be hyper-dominant to be successful.


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Handicapping "Laker with a perfect game against Chicago" odds

November, 23, 2010
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
Heading into last weekend, Charles Barkley was the only player in NBA history to record 20+ points without a miss on at least five attempts from the field and the line, plus five rebounds and five assists. Heading into Tuesday's game against the Chicago Bulls, Sir Charles' place in the record books is short some elbow room.

Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
First came Matt Barnes. Then Ol' Thunder Stealer. Will another Laker follow?

Friday against Minnesota, Matt Barnes notched 24 points (seven-for-seven from the field, five converted free throws in as many tries), seven rebounds and six assists in a career-night for the journeyman. Before Lakers fans had time to wrap their heads around the situation, Pau Gasol bum rushed the show. Ten baskets on ten attempts and eight converted free throw opportunities, plus nine boards and 5 dimes. You can debate which performance was better, but what can't be argued is how the Lakers make forays into history look so easy, a caveman could do it.

The question heading into the Bulls' game doesn't feel like "if" the streak will continue, but rather by whom. Thus, I decided to handicap the odds on the next Laker to achieve unblemished greatness.

For the sake of simplicity and (relative) realism, odds were only laid for dudes in the rotation. No offense to Derrick Caracter, Devin Ebanks, Luke Walton or Sasha Vujacic, but they're long shots for enough PT to qualify, and even if unexpectedly long minutes surface, I have my doubts about catching fire. Caracter leads the ninth-12th men with a 42.9 percent clip on largely point blank attempts, and at the other end of the spectrum, Luke's missed twelve of his thirteen shots attempts. (7.7 percent, for those willing to keep very low score.) If this were Vegas, they'd be off the board.

As for the eight legit candidates, here are your odds, in order from best to worst...

Kobe Bryant
Pros: As capable of such a roll as anybody in the NBA, much less the Lakers. He once hit a dozen three-pointers in one game, which sounds like a good warm up. Can a man of Kobe's insane competitiveness sit idly by and watch Gasol and Barnes pull this off without diving into the pool? Save Defensive Player of the Year, a perfect game is about the only achievement Bryant's yet to accomplish, and he's on a career path of leaving basically every stone unturned. No time like the present to flip this one.

Cons: He'll often be checked by Luol Deng (according to our man Nick Friedell from ESPN Chicago), a quality defender with excellent length. Kobe's willingness to put up shots nobody else on the planet would attempt often leads to misses nobody else on the planet would endure. His 30 percent mark from downtown is his lowest since the 1999 season, hardly a good omen.

Odds: 15-1

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The All (Current) Roster Numbers Team

November, 13, 2010
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
One fun part about sports, and having a dedicated space like this one, is the ability to follow through on somewhat random, totally insignificant thoughts/bits of trivia on any given night, just 'cause.

I always have fun looking through the Lakers uniform number register at Basketball Reference, if only for some of the random names you'll find and to once again confirm D.J. Mbenga is unquestionably the best Laker to ever wear 28. Tonight, I wondered what the best team the Lakers could assemble using only the numbers of guys currently on the roster.

Or, if you prefer, "The All 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 12, 15, 16, 17, 18, 24, 45, 50 Team."


Kenny Carr 1978-1979
Rory Sparrow 1992-1992
Anthony Miller 1995-1996
Derek Fisher 1997-2011
Aaron McKie 2006-2007

This one's easy. No disrespect to Pig Miller, but Fish has this one wrapped up. Though without McKie, the Lakers may never get Pau Gasol, a far more significant contribution than the 29 points he scored in purple and gold.


Elmore Smith 1974-1975
Jeff Lamp 1988-1989
Jay Vincent 1990-1990
Sedale Threatt 1992-1996
Devean George 2000-2006
Shammond Williams 2007-2007
Trevor Ariza 2008-2009
Devin Ebanks 2011-2011

Not the strongest number in LAL history. George won some hardware, but barely played in those playoff runs. Threatt was actually a pretty productive player, but during a particularly unproductive time for the franchise. That leaves Ariza, who went to a Finals, won a ring, and might still be here if not for some lousy work from his agent.

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Kobe Bryant
24.6 4.9 1.4 35.4
ReboundsJ. Hill 8.3
AssistsK. Bryant 4.9
StealsK. Bryant 1.4
BlocksE. Davis 1.2