Monday, July 28, 2008
After hearing offers from Europe, Vujacic signs deal to return to Lakers
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Had it been strictly a matter of economics, Sasha Vujacic would have left the Los Angeles Lakers to play in Europe.
Turns out Vujacic's decision was based on more than just the money.
"I'm glad it worked out. Tough month," Vujacic said Monday at team headquarters after signing a three-year, $15 million contract to return to the Lakers. "The only thing I can say is I'm happy to stay in L.A., I'm happy to stay with the Lakers. That was my first option. It would be hard to leave."
The 24-year-old Vujacic, who agreed to contract terms last Friday, averaged a career-high 8.8 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.0 assists in 72 games this season, and 8.1 points 2.2 rebounds and 0.8 assists while playing in all 21 playoff games.
"I thought he had a wonderful year this year," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said. "We're hoping he continues to develop."
The Lakers made Vujacic a $2.6 million qualifying offer earlier this month, but negotiations weren't progressing very quickly and agent Rob Pelinka spoke with European teams, as well. Pelinka said Vujacic could have earned more by accepting a three-year contract offer to play abroad.
"He was [offered more], you have to look at the taxes," Pelinka said. "The opportunity there was more lucrative. His heart was here. Throughout all the conversations, he made it clear if there was a way to get a fair deal here, that's what he wanted."
Vujacic, a restricted free agent, could have signed an offer sheet with another NBA team and the Lakers would have had the right to match it. Had he signed with a European team, the Lakers would have had no such option.
"I'm glad it worked out and I'm looking forward to next season," Vujacic said. "Now, I can clear my mind a little bit. I know where I'm going to be for the next three years. It's great.
"I'm a gym rat. I'm in the gym all the time. Next year, I want to be better than I was in the previous season. That's my goal."
Josh Childress announced last week he was leaving the Atlanta Hawks for Greek club Olympiacos, reversing the course of the many international stars who have signed with the NBA. Agent Jim Tanner said Childress was guaranteed about $20 million after taxes, and that Childress could opt out of the contract after each year.
Other players have left NBA teams to go abroad, as well.
"Europe has always been a player in basketball," Kupchak said. "They've never really measured up financially. In the last two or three weeks, there have been some significant signings. I'm sure it was a real option."
Vujacic said he spoke with most of his teammates during the past few weeks.
"Kobe [Bryant] called me the first day and the last day," Vujacic said. "It was pleasant conversation, it was positive. The last thing we said was, 'Let's win that championship.'"
The Lakers made Vujacic, a 6-foot-7, 205-pounder from Slovenia, the 27th overall pick in the 2004 draft. He averaged 2.9 points in 35 games as a rookie, 3.9 points in 82 games in his second professional season, and 4.3 points in 73 games in 2006-07.
Kupchak said he expects Andrew Bynum to be 100 percent healthy when training camp begins in two months. Bynum didn't play after injuring his left knee on Jan. 13. The 20-year-old center was in the midst of a breakout season, averaging 13.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots, when he was injured.
"I think if we were to start out the season with this team, we would be very happy," Kupchak said. "We only have 11 players under contract. If there are many minutes left in the frontcourt, Chris Mihm would get those minutes. With Sasha back, we have four players in the backcourt we can trust. We look to fill out the roster."
Under contract for next season are Bryant, Vujacic, Bynum, Mihm, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Vladimir Radmanovic, Luke Walton, Trevor Ariza, Derek Fisher and Jordan Farmar.