By Matt “Money” Smith FOX Sports West and PRIME TICKET MONEY ARCHIVE
That a good amount of Lakers fans are upset about the trade the team made Tuesday sending Sasha Vujacic to the Nets, is a testament to his personality and a lesson for everyone about being a good person.
If the 26-year-old Slovenian weren’t likeable, “Good Riddance” would echo throughout Lakers Nation. But when you look at the career of the former first rounder, save an increase in performance in his contract year, he’s been a disappointment on the court. But off the court, despite all the criticism lobbed in his direction, and there has been an awful lot, he’s been nothing but a pleasure to anyone that has crossed paths with him. When was the last time you heard fans lamenting the decision from a front office to move a guy who’s only participated in 50% of the contests and played an average of five minutes per game this season?
He’s supposedly, without question according to some, the best shooter on the team. But his career shooting percentage is 39.3%. He’s always fixing his hair, he’s got a superstar athlete for a fiancw, runs his own website where he shows off the latest fashion trends on his sculpted frame and he’s pulling in $5.5 million a year doing it. Even Sasha’s on-court antics have drawn the ire of a contingency of Lakers supporters, but still, they can’t hate the guy because he’s so damn nice.
I listened to a few friends and read some e-mail that came in about Joe Smith providing the Lakers with another big body, and Sasha had to be sacrificed for the greater good. I know it’s Christmas time, and the idea of Santa Claus is floating around, but do you really believe acquiring a 35-year-old Joe Smith, who’s played in four games this season for a last-place team, is what led to this deal being consummated? Would the Lakers give up a first-round draft pick for a guy who’s posting 0.5 points-per-game and snatching up 0.8 rebounds-per-game?
Not a chance.
But you better believe they’d be happy to lose out on another late-round selection no matter how well Mitch Kupchak has done with those picks to shed their highest in the league $93 million team salary of a cool $5.5 million. With the Luxury Tax penalty included, the move saves the Lakers right around $7.5 million bucks. If you were Dr. Jerry Buss and someone told you jettisoning a first-round pick that’s likely to be around 29th or 30th would put that kind of scratch back in your pocket, what would you say?
There’s no question Sasha came on in 2008, averaging double-figure scoring in the months of January, February and March as the Lakers made their return to the NBA Final, just one year after hearing Kobe Bryant say he wanted out. With things going so well, it made perfect sense to bring back a 23-year old kid who seemed to finally find what had eluded him the first three years of his career as he showed off his skills in practice but couldn’t get them to translate in the games. It certainly didn’t hurt that Bryant liked the guy and enjoyed using him as a verbal punching bag by lobbing one good-natured jab after another his direction.
His Game 3 NBA Finals performance against the Celtics (7-10, 20 points) single handedly saved the Lakers from an embarrassing sweep, and he was paid nearly a million dollars for every point he scored in that contest just a couple weeks later. He wasn’t able to live up to the contract, didn’t score a single point against Orlando in the 2009 NBA Finals, but finally got some accolades by hitting a pair of crucial free throws against the Celtics with just :11 left in the Game 7 victory over Boston. You would have to say that alone is worth the $5 million he pulled in that season.
Sasha clearly wasn’t long for the Lakers as he’s been replaced by Shannon Brown as the teams primary back-up to Kobe, and in a contract year this could be better for his future anyway. See that, calling him Sasha, only superstars get the first name treatment on most teams, Kobe and Pau. Shaq, Magic, Kareem, Big Game James, but Sasha is so likable you feel like you’re on a first name basis with the guy.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember this is a business and not a toy we get to play with. No matter how much you like an employee sooner or later you have to justify his or her salary as it related to the bottom line. $7.5 million is an awful big tab for Dr. Buss to carry around with very little production to show for it.
And for my own personal enjoyment, I can’t wait to see he and Jordan Farmar back on the court together again, screaming at one another, while looking like they’re going to throw blows at any moment.
Matt “Money” Smith can be heard Monday-Friday on The Petros and Money Show on FOX Sports Radio’s KLAC-AM 570 from 3 pm to 7 pm (PT).