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Sasha Vujacic: Exit Interview

June 22, 2009 | 11:44 am

First things first!  Check out who's donning the green again!  With a title in the books and a beatdown from Boston now a distant memory, Sasha Vujacic finally gets to bust out his ropa verde.   Before the cameras rolled, The Machine also said a haircut will also commence, but more "trim" than "jar head."  For the time being, the mane appears tracked to retain its flowing glory. 

Unfortunately, sharing that info represented one of the few light points during Sasha's Q & A.  Phil Jackson mentioned how certain meetings invoked less of a "pat on the back, have a great summer" tone than others.  I'll go out on a limb and predict Sasha's was among them.  For a dude that just won a title, he seemed pretty glum.   While pleased with the outcome, he expressed a lot of unhappiness over his decreased role, especially down the playoff stretch.  He was also unhappy that- by his own admission- his play wasn't up to snuff, but from Sasha's "cause and effect" perspective, one hand clearly washed the other.  From the interview's outset, Sasha expressed mixed feelings over his championship season.  The proverbial "right things" were said, but "sentiments" and "tone" were anything but a match.

"From a personal point of view, the season didn't go the way I planned or expected," nodded Vujacic.  "I obviously have a different role. At times, it was different. Sometimes you have to give up something in order for a team to succeed. You gotta put individual goals to the side, and that's what I learned from this season."

BK and I have written on countless occasions about Sasha's career-long tendency to press in the face of decreased minutes, a desire to cram 25 minutes of production into ten minutes of floor time as a way to earn more run.  The results were bad shots, bad fouls and (ironically, if predictably) more time sitting. To his credit, Sasha copped to the violation, but his comments make me wonder if he truly "gets" the situation. Or more importantly, accepts it.

"Whenever I would play the minutes that I played this year, I would try to do too much. That's the way I play basketball. I have a passion for the game and I just love to play. But trying to do too much, you think that you're going to get more minutes. In order to be loose and let the game come to you, you're pushing, you're pushing it. You try to do too much and bad things just start to happen."

More on this topic. First, BK noted how on a team with so much depth, minutes will have to be sacrificed by nearly everyone. Is that something Sasha is cool with? Honestly, I don't think so. He knows what he's supposed to say and is certainly trying to, but he's obviously quite chapped over a reduced role.   Yes, he relayed an "if it's four minutes, it's four minutes" message to the coaching staff, but unfortunately, that's also what was said all season, and he struggled to reach peace with the situation.  A "but we'll see" kicker gave the impression that he planned to solve the issue by somehow securing more PT, rather than making the necessary mental adjustment and then hoping to play more.

I'm not out to harp on the matter, but this is a potential problem should Sasha not get his head right. Trevor Ariza available for 82 games probably played the single biggest role in Sasha's PT dropping, and assuming TA is resigned, the odds heavily favor status quo. Call me crazy, but I don't see Sasha pushing Kobe Bryant off the floor. And the only person who seems to consider Sasha a viable candidate for more PG minutes is Sasha. Thus, without an injury or a quantum leap in improvement (well beyond what we saw in 2008), The Face's 2010 role forecasts to shake out pretty similarly to the 2009 version. If he can't learn to embrace this notion (or at the very least, wholeheartedly accept it), Groundhog Day II: Electric Bugaloo feels like a given.  

In a revealing moment, Sasha expressed his desire not to come off like a dude fat and happy after inking his 3 year/15 mil deal. "I'm not going to be one of those people who signs a contract and doesn't care. I care a lot."  Wanting to prove he was "here for a reason" and aware that NBA folk often judge achievement by stats, Vujacic hoped to double 2008's numbers.  His heart may have been in the right place, but that's a very lofty goal under any circumstances.  Factor in the reduced minutes, and organic success is more or less impossible.  Ultimately, it's about recognition and tweaking approaches, which hasn't been easy for Sasha.

As I've said about Sasha for years, dude needs to relax more. A LOT more. Let me put it this way. When Kobe Bryant- whom I've always gotten the distinct impression considers hard work something of a "must"- wants you to become less of a gym rat, you're clearly putting too much pressure on yourself. I genuinely admire Sasha's dedication, but there's a difference between purposeful effort and obsession. As evidenced by zero baskets falling against Orlando, I think Sasha's extra shooting represented more of the latter.

Finally, Sasha expressed excitement at playing for the Slovenian National team this summer. His bracket includes Spain, and while he understands why Pau Gasol might opt to rest up, he's hoping El Spaniard will participate. Then, no excuses can be offered when Slovenia wins.

Previous Exit Interviews: