Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Updated: December 16, 9:58 AM ET
Phil Jackson hopes Joe Smith can fit in
By Dave McMenamin
INDIANAPOLIS -- On Tuesday, Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson would not talk about the trade that brought the team Joe Smith and sent Sasha Vujacic to New Jersey until it became official.
Maybe it was because he was upset the story leaked to the media before the Lakers started their game with the Washington Wizards.
"It was awful," Jackson said, somewhat jokingly. "I can't blame you guys enough for disrupting our lives. It just made it miserable to have business as usual."
The lone hurdle left to clear before the swap becomes official is for Smith, 35, to pass a physical in Philadelphia on Thursday. If he's healthy, he could have his first practice with the team later that afternoon in advance of the Lakers' game against the 76ers on Friday.
On Wednesday, before the Lakers beat the Pacers 109-94, Jackson looked ahead to Smith's role and reflected on Vujacic's time in L.A.
"We hope that [Smith is] physically capable of joining our team and playing at the level that we want to play at," Jackson said. "Joe's been hampered a little bit by some things so we hope that he can physically fit in."
Smith wore a pad on his left elbow for part of this season, but that irritation has since subsided, according to a source in the Nets organization.
The 6-foot-10, 225-pound Smith started the Nets' first three games of the season at power forward, but has played only one game since then, averaging 0.5 points and 0.8 rebounds in 6.3 minutes per game.
The former No. 1 pick in the 1995 NBA draft is set to join his 12th team since entering the league and has averages of 11.0 points and 6.4 rebounds per game over his 16-year career.
"He has a knack, he's been on some teams, he knows how to play, he's a veteran," Jackson said. "Joe is an outside shooter up to 17 feet. He's an offensive rebounder. He's got a length, you know, he's pretty long and lanky. He knows his way around the court. He was the No. 1 draft pick. He was a talent at the time he was picked and has had a very interesting NBA career."
The addition of Smith to the front line, along with the return of Andrew Bynum and the continued rehabilitation of Theo Ratliff that could see him back in the lineup sometime soon, leaves Jackson little playing time to dole out to rookies Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter.
"We would be hopeful that we could get some experience for these younger players," Jackson said. "We'll probably have to get them playing [in the D-League] in the near future probably after the new year and have an opportunity to get these kids some playing time and advance their careers."
Jackson said the 26-year old Vujacic's move from L.A., where he was averaging only 1.8 points in 4.9 minutes per game this season, to New Jersey could advance his career.
"We wish him well," Jackson said. "Fortunately he's going to join Jordan [Farmar], who knows his game and they can team up a little bit together. This is a kid who needs an opportunity to play. He has a shooting streak that's impressive when he gets going. He can help a team. He's got some experience."
Jackson was asked if he had any parting words for Vujacic, whom he coached for six out of the guard's seven seasons in the league since being drafted by the Lakers out of Slovenia.
"I told him he's always going to be family to me," Jackson said. "He's played on two championship teams. He helped us win ballgames. ... He had a critical role with our team. He deserves that notoriety having played and contributed on a championship team."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.