As he took his place at center court for tip-off on Wednesday night against the Warriors, Sasha Vujacic knew he was going in for a battle. He made his name as a clutch shooter as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2000’s, playing as a teammate to Kobe Bryant, but now he’s lining up with a struggling Knicks outfit that’s fighting to stay alive in the Eastern Conference.
Oh, how times change.
Steph Curry has been unstoppable from long-range this season, but if you turn the clock back a few years, the thought of leaving Vujacic for an open look would strike fear into the heart of the toughest coach. The Slovenian sharpshooter has carved out a solid reputation for himself during his 8 years in the NBA playing crucial roles coming off the bench in clutch moments.
During his six years with the Los Angeles Lakers, Vujacic played in back-to-back championships and infuriated opposition fans with his ability to nail long-range shots under pressure. Eleven games into the 2010-11 season, he found himself caught up in a three-way trade that sent him to the then New Jersey Nets, where he would play out the remainder of the season.
In 2011, Vujacic made the decision to head to the Euro League, signing a two-year contract with Anadolu Efes, where he would remain for two years until the NBA, and the Los Angeles Clippers came calling. His time with the Clippers was short lived as he signed a 10-day contract that was not extended before returning to Europe where he would spend just one season in the Italian league, followed by a season with Spanish team, Laboral Kutxa. Just when we thought that we’d seen the last of Vujacic in the NBA, last August the Knicks called up the veteran to provide some scoring power and support to Carmelo Anthony.
Throughout his career Vujacic has played in some of the most hostile environments the NBA has seen. Taking on the Warriors inside Oracle Arena is a whole different experience, though. The Dubs haven’t lost at home in over a year now, and seem to be unstoppable in Oakland.
“The Warriors are playing incredible basketball,” Vujacic said. “They’re on another level. They are very unselfish, they help each other and they can defend and people recognize that. They also feed off the crowd energy when needed. It’s fun to play in an arena like that.”
Finding himself matched up against the best offensive team that the NBA has ever seen, Vujacic had a lot of praise for the Warriors style of basketball, and for their ball movement that allows them to create so many opportunities.
“Well, they’re just incredible because it’s easy to find the game rhythm with the way they play, and they are making each other better. They are always using the extra pass, and waiting for their perfect shot to get everybody going. That’s very important for the shooters to get going early in the game. They are just so tough to play against; you can’t say anything else.”
After the departure of Derick Fisher mid-season, the Knicks have gone from being a reasonable team in the East, to dropping off the face of the earth. Vujacic spent a lot of his NBA career developing under the guidance of then Lakers’ head coach, Phil Jackson. Now the GM of the Knicks, Jackson no doubt had a part to play in getting Vujacic to New York.
Over the past few days interesting stories have spread indicating that Jackson has hinted at the idea that he might like to coach New York next season, but only for their home games. This would mean that the team would have two head coaches – something that has never been done before, but after the way that Luke Walton and Steve Kerr have been handling the Warriors this season, maybe the Zen master is onto something.
When asked how he would feel about playing under two head coaches, Vujacic says that he hasn’t heard anything about it yet, but he has loved working with Jackson in the past.
As an international player, Vujacic understands that the support from fans all over the world is invaluable. Vujacic wanted to thank all of the fans from Australia that have supported him throughout his career, and was quick to tell me that he’s planning on heading down under after wanting to visit for some time.
“Hopefully in the next summer I can visit Australia,” he said. “I would love to visit Sydney or Melbourne and explore, it’s on my bucket list.”
Featured Image: Sportsworldreport