After playing in just two NBA games from 2011-2015, Sasha Vujacic's career in The Association was resurrected by his former Lakers coach Phil Jackson. Now serving as Knicks Team President, Jackson signed Vujacic at the beginning of last season.
Despite only signing a minimum contract, Vujacic's acquisition was met with surprise and confusion, much more than it was intrigue. Fans and media members criticized such a move right off the bat, and as the season continued to progress, it didn't get much better than that.
A nine year NBA veteran, Vujacic shot below his career-average shooting percentages across the board. Still, he continued to receive ample playing time from former teammate Derek Fisher and coach Kurt Rambis. As the coaching staff continued to look his way in favor of a seemingly more productive Arron Afflalo, more confusion ensued. Despite his average play, Vujacic started a career-high 25 games.
As the Knicks head into the 2016-17 campaign, Vujacic will return on yet another veteran's minimum's contract, and some are still wondering why. But for what it's worth, the guard is widely regarded as one of the best teammates any player will ever have. Jackson wants to develop a positive team culture, and Vujacic is highly favored as someone who contributes to such an environment.
"I'm going to give Sasha the biggest compliment I can give any of my players. He's the nicest guy you'll ever meet off the court," Gameshape Inc. trainer Robbie Davis told SNY.tv and TheKnicksBlog.com. "He's a family guy who spends time with his parents, brother, and sister. They play board games. Everybody loves the guy. He's the unofficial mayor out here in Manhattan Beach."
But make no mistake: Vujacic is a competitor.
"On the court, he's the complete opposite. He's the most annoying player that you'll ever play with. He's ultra-competitive. He's competitive to a fault, because he doesn't know how to turn it off," Davis said. "He's going to argue every call and be in your face all the time. He's like a little gnat."
Davis, the longtime trainer of over twelve years, has worked with Vujacic for well over the last seven seasons. He added that Vujacic carries himself with a certain level of cockiness that stems from being a Laker and a multi-time NBA champion. Perhaps he's earned it.
Still, he serves as the consummate professional and teammate.
"[People] love him off the court. Everyone wants to go to lunches and dinners and hang out with him. But he can just flip the switch," the trainer said. "It's a huge compliment, because you want guys to hate you on the court, but love you off of it. He's very unique."
Vujacic is one of Kristaps Porzingis' best friends on the team and has initiated numerous offseason training sessions with some of the newer acquisitions this summer. He's dedicated to helping the Knicks improve, including in the chemistry department.
What's more, Davis added, "Sasha is a relentless workout guy. He'll kill himself, but he's in the best shape. I think guys were impressed and wanted to see what he was doing."
One can only hope that he elevates his level of play on the court this season, but it's easier to understand the value Vujacic has with this in mind.