Tonight, Carmelo Anthony makes his first trip to Los Angeles as a New Jersey Net... (What? Not yet? Oh! Oops, sorry!)
...For the second time this season, the Lakers will face a former player that now plays for the Nets. First it was Jordan Farmar. This time it's Sasha Vujacic - the man everyone loves to hate. Both players played vital roles (at one point or another) in the Lakers' recent success, and both were cast off. Farmar wanted to "grow" as a player, and Sasha needed to grow, but didn't. The feelings were mutual from the Purple and Gold's front office, except they no longer wanted the two to do it in Los Angeles. Enter New Jersey.
Now Nets, the pair are each scoring at career-high clips. They are both playing more minutes than they ever saw in with the Lakers. Jordan is averaging 24.7 minutes per game, while Sasha's burning 27.3 minutes of floor time per game. That is waaaay more playing time than in 2007-2008, the year they both played the most minutes per game in each of their careers, with 20.6 and 17.8 respectively. It should be said, that was the year the Lakers didn't win the Chip. Hmmm. Less time in L.A.? Championships. Tons of play in New Jersey? 10-29. I wonder if there's a correlation?
The funny part is both players had their chances in Lakerland, but play elsewhere due to no fault but their own. Each blew chances to take over the starter's gig from Mr. Intangibles, Derek Fisher. Before Fish's recent playoff heroics in each of the past two Finals, 99.9% of Lakerdom was begging for him to be replaced. First was Jordan Farmar, who unseated Smush Parker as starter just before the playoffs in 2007 and had plenty of moments in 2007-2008, in which he outperformed Fish. Then inconsistent play and unhappiness in the Triangle had him seeking to "grow" as a player in another uniform. It's no secret that Farmar didn't fit Phil's ideal prototype of a point guard for the Triangle, but skill-wise there should be no reason that the Lakers were so eager to give Steve Blake 4 years / $16 million that Farmar shouldn't have been able to duplicate. I get it, Farmar wanted the chance to eventually make more money. That's understandable, especially given the fact he has two rings already. But to head to New Jersey, in the same role, and Steve Blake makes more than Jordan ($3.75 million per year) signed for? Seems like Jordan shoulda coulda woulda had it all.
Dig these per game stats for Farmar:
7.2 ppg, 1.5 apg, 1.6 rpg, 43.5% FG, 37.6 3P% in 18.0 minutes per game.
9.8 ppg, 4.2 apg, 2.3 rpg, 38.8% FG, 35.4 3P% in 24.7 minutes per game.
Not much better. He is playing almost seven minutes per game more. In fact, it's not better at all when you take a peak at his per 36 minutes stats:
14.4 ppg, 4.1 apg, 3.2 rpg
14.3 ppg, 6.2 apg, 3.4 rpg
Hmmm. No growth here it seems. If he just played as Phil wanted, he could have been doing the same thing, for a MUCH better team, and possibly more money. Plus, shoveling snow is no fun. Trust me. What's worse is Jordan still comes off the bench. Yay.
Sasha's case is different. He did fit Phil's wants. He was tall (6'7"), could shoot and space the floor and was a versatile defender. You think the Lakers didn't have plans for him? I don't believe there's any way the front office hands out the contract they did to Sasha without any hope that he'd eventually start next to Kobe. Then the bottom fell out once he signed on the dotted line.
So far, the numbers tell a different story for Sasha. It seems he was ready to redeem himself after all (contract year , of course). Except, Shannon Brown's stellar play and and improvement as a shooter nailed Vujacic's ass to the bench. Couple that with the Shawfather's vengeance, it added up to a ton of DNP-CD's. He made his bed last season, and getting out was the only way for his career around. Now getting another chance with New Jersey, Sasha's starting to show the the touch that had the Lakers opening the vault for. A year or two late, but good for him.
In 12 games with the Nets:
11.3 ppg, 1.9 apg, 3.1 rpg, 40.3% FG, 40.4% 3P in 27.3 minutes per game.
He only played a grand total of 54 minutes for the Lakers this year, so I don't need to tell you that anything he's doing for he Nets trumps his contribution for this year's Lakers. Even though the Nets are terrible, Sasha's doing what he was brought in to do - nail threes, play defense and best of all, have $6 million expire from the salary cap after this season. But like Farmar, it shoulda coulda woulda been as a Laker.
These two players sum up the Nets organization right now. Maybe it's where they belong? The types of players that don't know how to, nor really care about winning. They're comfortable in playing how they want to play. Scoring how they want (they rank 29th in assists). Being happier getting the face time and shots they need, and not needing to win to achieve it. Let's face it, they suck. A nice collection of young talent that's currently bordering the Sacramento Kings level of "always-have-nice-young-talent-but-forever-suck-and-have-a-top-5-draft pick" kind of bad. I look at this roster and don't think they should be anywhere near as bad as they are. They aren't very talented, but they employ one of the best young centers in the NBA, a PG who once helped Dallas to a 67-15 record and a trip to the Finals, the coach who got Dallas there, and a top rookie in Derrick Favors. Still, they don't shoot well, don't defend well, don't rebound well, and seem to have no future in sight. Want some stats to back this up? Here ya go...
The Nets rank low in pretty much every offensive category you can find. They're 29th in the NBA in scoring at 92.4 points per game, 27th in pace at 90.0 possession per game, and 29th in offensive efficiency at 101.0. They only make 43.5% of their shots (29th), and 33.6% of their threes (25th). Not only are they slow, but they can't find the basket when they do.
Unlike the Hornets, pace isn't used as a strategy in keeping the score down to rely on defense. Their defensive rating is 108.3 (29th), and thy Nets give up 6.6 points per game more than their opponents. The rest of the NBA scores 99.0 points per game against them. The only team that has a worse scoring differential is the "57-points-against-the-Lakers" Cavaliers. Ouch. Ranking 16th in opponent field goal percentage at 45.8%, opponents are having a much easier time scoring against them than vice versa.
The Lakers have an obvious advantage at every position sans point guard. Devin Harris should be able to get his (he will and it won't mean a thing - he's taken over VC's apathetic leadership role) against Derek Fisher, and Jordan might make a few trips to the basket. This time around, though, Andrew Bynum will be waiting. Bynum's presence impacts the offense more, since it also takes Brook Lopez off of Pau Gasol. Recently, Pau had been having major problems with guys the size of Lopez. Pau should have a major advantage over Favors, Kris Humphries or Troy Murphy. It's going to be real fun watching Kobe Bryant get Sasha into foul trouble in about 20 seconds.
It will be even more fun watching Sasha and Farmar go head up against the two guys that showed them the door, Shannon and Blake. Therein lies the difference, players who wanted to become better and want to win, versus the players who didn't get better and wanted numbers.