clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Reading Between the (Head) Lines - The Lakers coaching staff are still high on Sasha

My apologies for not writing anything of note lately. I thought my job would be easier once training camp started, but that has not turned out to be the case. The problem is not that there isn't any news to write about. The problem is that, since we here at SS&R don't merit a media credential just yet, we don't have a first hand account of what's going on at training camp. Therefore, any analysis that we could provide is going to sound almost exactly like that of the actual journalists who are paid to follow the team, and that is just boring (not to mention slightly plagiaristic). But I don't want to rest on my laurels while everybody else keeps you informed, so I'm going to do my best to go beyond all the stories coming out of camp. I'm going to try to tell you what it all means. All the easy analysis is taken care of, so this will be a little bit deeper and, by neccesity, some of it might be reaching.

Our first entry in what will hopefully become a series is regarding Sasha Vujacic. Everyone agrees that Sasha had a baaaad year during the 08-09 season. Many fans on this very site have been ready and willing to throw in the towell on Sasha, basically coming to the conclusion that the "Year of the Machine" was a fluke, and Sasha will never be able to return to the form that saw him sign a pretty lucrative $5 million/year deal. Well, I'm here to let you know that the Lakers' coaching staff disagrees with your assessment. They still think that Sasha has a lot to give this team, moreso than any of you probably think.

First off, it seems that Vujacic had a pretty humbling offseason. The Lakers' staff criticized Vujacic on everything from his attitude to his performance to his personal appearance over the last season. He got cut from his own national team. The coaches suggested that he take a break, get his mind right, and come back prepared to regain his form. Oh, and they told him to get a hair cut. If this article is to be believed, Sasha did everything the Lakers asked of him, and he did it in good spirits. I think Sasha's attitude in the face of such criticism has impressed the coaching staff. They see that he has acknowledged his mistakes, and is doing everything he can to correct them. If he truly does listen to the coaching staff as he seems to be doing, I think the Lakers staff thinks he can return to being the Machine, so much so that they are grooming him to be the first guard off the bench. In my mind, that is the only logical explanation for this.

Yes, friends, Sasha Vujacic is getting some time as the lead guard in training camp. Were any of you as shocked by that headline as I was? First of all, it's clear that Phil Jackson clearly doesn't think much of my analysis. (Seriously? I come up with a decent argument for playing with a two small guard lineup, and Phil comes back with "I'm experimenting with a lineup where Kobe and Artest are our guards" and follows with Sasha getting time as the point?) Second of all, on the surface, Sasha getting time at the point doesn't seem to make any sense at all. The Lakers already have a point guard. They already have a backup point guard. And they already have a bench warmer who is intended to play point guard, but just can't find any time. We may not be sure which one is which between Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown on the depth chart, but we know they are both there. So why in the hell would PJ want Sasha to spend any time at a position that is the deepest (not the best depth, but the most number of players capable of playing) on the team?
Because he thinks Sasha might be the player he wants as the first guard off the bench, that's why. If that is the role he wants Sasha to play, Sasha has to play it at the point. The guard starters are Derek Fisher (the point guard) and Kobe Bryant (the shooting guard). I don't think any of us are unclear as to which of those two players will get subbed first, and which of those two players will play less. Which means that there will be about twice as many point guard minutes played off the bench as there will be shooting guard minutes. If PJ wants Sasha to play anywhere near 20 minutes/game, he'll probably have to get nearly half of those minutes at point guard. I can't think of another explanation for why this would be happening, unless it really is as simple as needing a 4th point guard for the team's 4 v 4 scrimmages (there are four teams).
Now, if my analysis is correct, most fans would probably be thinking to themselves: Why? Actually, for many fans, it's much more like: Whhhhyyyyyyyyyyyyyy? (while staring at the sky from their knees, with their arms raised). But this could end up as a good thing, and I'm not just saying so under the "Coaches know better than we do" logic. First off, Fisher is likely to play the least number of minutes of any of the starters. Which means that the first guard off the bench will need to be able to play just as well with the 1st team as he does with the 2nd. Since Fisher's only jobs on the court consist of spreading the floor, starting the offense, and getting burned by opposing guards (sorry, I couldn't resist), I can see why PJ might think that Sasha would be the best replacement. Sasha knows how to run the offense, this analysis presumes he will get his shot back, and he has shown at times that he is a decent defender (when not playing ridiculously over-aggresive defense that results in a ton of fouls). Then, when the rest of the 2nd unit comes into the game, Sasha can transition back to the 2 with Kobe on the bench, and either Farmar or Brown can pick up the 2nd guard off the bench minutes at the point. The second reason this could be a positive? It's no coincidence that Vujacic's best season came when he was allowed significant playing time, and that he struggled mightily last season in part because he was trying to do too much because he knew his playing time was going to be short. An increase in playing time could help Sasha return to the form that saw him play crunch time minutes in the NBA Finals two seasons ago.
Continuing down this path, it would seem clear that the coaching staff isn't particularly enamored with either of the backup point guards. Why would the coaches want Sasha to play minutes at a position slightly outside his comfort zone if they felt confident in players they already had at that position. For each player, it's likely a different reason. Brown could simply not quite be there yet, as it does take some time to really let the Triangle sink into your system. Brown provided some real quality, especially on defense, last season, but he might be considered too much of a liability at this point in running the offense to be considered for regular playing time, and he does not handle the ball particularly well. For Farmar, it could be as I mentioned above, that the coaches simply see Sasha as a better fit as the "bench player who plays a lot with the starters". Farmar has never been known as a guy that fits well into the triangle. But it seems more likely that if Farmar has fallen out of favor with the coaches, it is because of his attitude. Farmar has been quoted as saying he wants to be the starter. I didn't think at the time that it was a bad attitude thing, as it seemed to me that he understood his performance needed to match his desire. But if I've read it wrong, and Farmar really does have the bad attitude that some think he does, the coaches might be doing what they feel is neccesary to make sure that his bad attitude doesn't make it out onto the court. Regardless, I think its clear that this developement clearly means more PT for Sasha, unless it doesn't mean anything at all.
What do you think? Is PJ sending a message to Farmar or Brown? Does he really want Sasha to play 20 min/game? Will he respond to this analysis by having Vujacic released? Discuss.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Silver Screen & Roll Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Los Angeles Lakers news from Silver Screen & Roll