When the New York Knicks agreed to sign shooting guard Sasha Vujacic on July 31, not many knew what to make of it. Vujacic won two championships with Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, but he’d played in just two NBA games since 2011.
Day by day, Vujacic’s role is becoming more defined.
Rookie power forward Kristaps Porzingis revealed that Vujacic is serving as something of a mentor. When starting shooting guard Arron Afflalo went down with a hamstring injury, coach Fisher confidently started Vujacic in his place.
“Having him on our team now I think is a big plus, just knowing how feisty he is,” Anthony said. “And he’s a vet, he knows how to play the game, he knows this system. Just having him is a plus.”
Anthony didn’t always feel so positively about the Slovenian shooting guard.
“I hated Sasha,” Anthony said with a smile on Sunday. “We got into it a couple times. He was just one of [those] little dirty players — sneaky, grab your jersey, foul you after the play. He was speaking in his language, and I couldn’t [understand it].
“Now I understand what he was saying to me, [and] it made me hate him even more [from] back then.”
This isn’t exactly surprising to hear or read.
Anthony, whose Denver Nuggets days included an infamous fight with then Knicks guard Nate Robinson, once had it out with Vujacic mid-game. Whether or not you believe there was acting involved, Anthony choked Vujacic during a blowout loss.
You can watch that video here:
Time has passed, both men have matured and now they’re teammates.
The good news is that Anthony has come around on a player who was notorious for getting under opponents’ skin. The even better news is that said agitator is on the Knicks and not playing against them.
There’s no telling how much Vujacic has left in the tank, but he’s certainly a throwback to New York players of old.
The Knicks have always been heralded for the flash, but their best years have been built around tenacity. The likes of Patrick Ewing, Walt Frazier and Willis Reed led their respective teams by example, but they were surrounded by a cast of hard-working role players.
On a significantly smaller scale, Vujacic’s mentality could breed a similar nastiness in 2015-16.
Vujacic being a mentor to Porzingis means he could help the rookie play with more of an edge. His being on the roster could also teach his teammates how to keep their composure against players of a similar makeup.
If nothing else, Anthony and Vujacic playing together should create a very interesting dynamic in practice.
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