Troubleshooting The Machine
Before we get started, I present the obligatory Andrew Bynum Medical Update:
For several days, he's been riding the stationary bike and using the elliptical machine.
No word on whether or not it was set to "Hill" or "Fat Burner," but it's good to know AB is getting active again. Oh, and Kobe's ankle? Not an issue. As you were.
As for the day's work in El Segundo, it was a relatively light effort. No surprise given LA's upcoming schedule. Two dates with the run-and-gun (again) Suns with a visit to Denver in between. Let's hope everyone has done his cardio. While there was plenty of talk of Stephon Marbury and his soon-to-be addition to the Celtics roster, I was very curious to hear a little talk about Sasha Vujacic. The season as a whole has not been kind to him, and lately things have been even tougher. Most of his numbers, from minutes to shooting percentage, are down in February. Since going 4-6 from the floor in the Feb. 10 win over OKC, Sasha is 4-21 from the floor, and his minutes have gone down since peaking in January.
I asked PJ if there is any concern for the state of The Machine.
"We're always concerned about Sasha," he smiled. Touche. The kid is a little high strung, after all.
Regarding his recent play, I clarified.
Said Jackson, "I told him the other night, he had three really good passes and they led to assists and he filled the role he's supposed to fill with the team, and that's great. If he has extended minutes and he's playing in a situation where he's going to make shots and have shot opportunities, yeah we're concerned about (his shooting). But he doesn't have to force shots or have to score for us to be successful. So as long as he flushes out that role and plays his 12 to 16 minutes and gives Kobe the rest he needs, that's great. If he has extended minutes- now he's playing 24 minutes and he's not in rhythm with his shot and we need those shots, then we are concerned. But I don't worry about Sasha. He's over here shooting two hours a day almost every day. He's very concerned. He's neurotic almost about his shooting."
Exactly. I've long written about my belief that when his minutes are short, Sasha tends to try and cram as much as he can into limited PT, come hell or high water.
"Forcing shots is something we've asked him not to do," Jackson said. "That gets us in trouble, and that shortens his minutes if that's going to happen. But he's got to take the shots when they're there, and if they don't go in (that's okay). He's a good shooter, and that's what we want (him to do.)"
Clearly PJ was interested in building Sasha up, the right instinct given Vujacic's unique psychology.
I had a chance later to talk to Sasha as well. He's clearly frustrated, both with his PT and his shooting- not an inference but something he admitted flat out- but at the same time (and to his credit) was very careful to make sure he was saying the right things.
"Nothing's off. Obviously I'm playing a different role right now than I was last year. My involvement in the offense is not that important, or I'm not involved as much as I was last year. The last 10 or 15 games I'm averaging two shots a game or whatever. You're going to make it or miss it, it doesn't matter. I'm not worried about that. We're winning, and that's the most important thing. I think we have a very deep team, and nights like I'm having lately are going to come, where I'm going to play spot minutes or whatever. We're all professionals here, we know how to deal with it. No complaints. It's at times frustrating, but we're winning, and that's the most important thing. I love to win, and our goal is not individual stats but winning a championship. So I'm prepared for that."
The Lakers want him moving the ball and running the offense, then focusing on the other end. Still, it's hard for a shooter not to shoot.
"It is. Very hard. Everybody knows what I do the best, and what I do the best is to get open shots in rhythm and score," he said. "But the team is asking me to do something different right now. Even when I'm playing a shooting guard, I'm playing the point, because I'm finding open guys. I don't want to force shots. I don't want to go and be selfish, but stay within the offense. Once we realize how important it is moving that basketball, we're going to have no problem."
"I have to adjust. Coming from the pick and roll, usually I would have an open shot or take an open shot or create for myself, but now I might have two guys on me and I'll find the open man. Josh, or whoever. I'm not going to lie to you, it is frustrating a little bit, but I'll adjust to it because in order to win, everyone has to sacrifice something. The nights will come where I'll have ten shots all of a sudden, so I have to be ready, and mentally I have to stay in the right place. As long as we are winning, everything is good."
Clearly things haven't gone the way Vujacic expected when camp opened. "At the beginning of the season I said I was going to double my stats (as a goal). That's what I really intended to do, but it's not about me, it's about the team. Everybody wants to play. I love to play basketball, I'd play 40 minutes if I could, but my role in the last 10 or 15 games has been different. I just have to stay ready and do what our coach is asking me to do. That's play defense for now," he said.
Sasha is a high-burn kind of dude who has never really done well in keeping an even keel. The same intensity that makes him loved by fans as a defensive pest or hustle player is also what can mess up his decision making process, whether in shot selection or avoiding fouls 57 feet from the bucket. Hopefully he can ramp up his play and get the confidence back, because the guy who finished fourth quarters last season would be awfully handy down the stretch.
One final note: I think I saw today what officially qualifies as the most interesting interview setup I've ever seen. Pau Gasol, in a chair, being interviewed by a very small man in a Telemundo jumpsuit who was pretending to shine Pau's shoes while asking questions. Or at least I think that's what was going on. I didn't want to intrude.
Derek Fisher, comparing this year's team to the threepeat squads he played on during his first stint in LA:
Fish, on the Celtics addition of Marbury:
Lamar Odom, on Tuesday's win in Oklahoma City, upcoming games:
On Marbury and Boston:
Pau Gasol on Thursday's game against the Suns, matching up against Shaq: