Phil Jackson acknowledges challenge in fitting in Sasha Vujacic into rotation
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson outlined the tough road ahead it will be for finding a proper balance in minutes for the Lakers' backcourt. And in the Lakers' 112-110 season-opening victory Tuesday against the Houston Rockets, it was Sasha Vujacic who didn't make an appearance for a single minute.
"It's real tough to play five guards," Jackson said after Thursday's practice at the Lakers' facility in El Segundo. "We know that. He knows that. All of our guards know it."
Jackson's rationale for leaving Vujacic out entails the fact that Shannon Brown scored 16 points on six of nine shooting in 21 minutes. That led Jackson "ride the hot hand," as he called it, even if he had planned for Vujacic to defend against Houston guard Kevin Martin, who scored 26 points on eight of 17 shooting, including going three of six from three-point range.
"Even a dumb person would know that one, right?" Jackson said a few hours before the team was to leave for its Friday night game at Phoenix (0-1). "The rotation's not that important as far as how it goes. It's about winning and that's important."
Vujacic spent lots of time working on his shooting after practice, but did not speak to most reporters afterward. The strong possibility that Vujacic will receive a limited role in the backcourt isn't at all surprising, considering Kobe Bryant's skill set, Derek Fisher's leadership, Steve Blake's strong understanding of the triangle offense and Shannon Brown's improved outside shot. But with one year remaining on his contract worth $5.5 million, Vujacic acknowledged during his exit interview how important it is to ride his confidence, including the two clutch free throws he made in Game 7 of the NBA Finals with 11.7 seconds remaining to secure the win and the title. Though he missed three exhibition games after suffering a concussion, Vujacic provided tons of energy, key outside shots and defensive scrappiness.
"I'm very competitive and sometimes a lot of people take that the wrong way," Vujacic said before training camp started. "I don't really care right now about the free agency or the contract year. What I care about is to do what I did all summer, to work hard and to play some basketball. To play basketball the right way and to win."
"Obviously, Sasha's a guy that comes in and does some things with shots in three-point territory," Jackson said during training camp. "We need [someone] to stir up the game. We need someone to anticipate picking up full court or chasing guys up full screens, animated defense. Those are the things Sasha can help us with."
But how much Vujacic will help in those departments remains to be seen. When I asked Jackson if Vujacic's recent contentiousness with Phoenix guard Goran Dragic could entice him to play Vujacic more Friday against Phoenix, Jackson said, "There are matchups that are really important."
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