Friday , Nov , 05 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

New look Lakers need to find chemistry

The Los Angeles Lakers rolled out the welcome mat for an old friend during the off-season when they signed former Sacramento Kings center,and free agent Vlade Divac to help replace the void left by Shaquille O’neal who was earlier traded to the Miami Heat.

New look Lakers need to find chemistryDivac, (7-1) played seven seasons for the Lakers from 1989-1996 were he averaged 12.5 points 8.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists before being traded to the Charlotte Hornets for the draft rights to Kobe Bryant. Divac was the Lakers 26th overall pick in the 1989 draft.

During his brief stint with the Kings Divac was named to the 2001 Western Conference All-Star team and enjoyed a career-best 5.3 assists per game in his final season with the Kings. Divac joins Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hakeem Olajuwon as only the third player in NBA history to reach 13,000 points (13,364), 9,000 rebounds (9,294), 3000 assists (3,522) and 1,500 blocked shots (1630).

The Lakers signed the 36 year old center to a two-year contract in July for $4.9 million per season. Divac played the last six seasons for Sacramento where he averaged 9.9 points for the last two seasons with the Kings Divac missed the Lakers eight preseason games due to a herniated disk suffered in an informal workout at the Lakers camp. “He’s making progress and they’re very happy with the way things have been going. I’m thinking more week to week” said first year head coach Rudy Tomjanovich.

After a trade that sent guard Gary Payton and Rick Fox to the Boston Celtics for Chris Mihm, and Chucky Atkins the Lakers are counting on their first round draft pick Shasha Vujacic (6-7) to fill in the blanks at point guard behind Atkins.

“I expect to make a contribution. I’m just going to try to learn as much as possible from them. I’m happy that I will get the chance to play with them. I’m going to try to prove that I’m ready for the NBA, mentally ready for that. I’m happy they believed in me and I will work hard to get a chance to play a role,” said Vujacic.

Vujacic knows that for now his primary role is to come off the bench as a backup to Atkins but according to Vujacic it’s just a matter of time until the 20-year old is a starter. “I may not have the chance to play a lot, but I’m going to learn a lot from them. So far, I’ve never had the chance to learn from anybody like that. OK, you can learn from coaches and stuff, but it’s not the same. Being able to learn from those players is the maximum. I think that if I learn and work hard, I can get playing time and prove they were not wrong choosing me. I just can’t wait for the league to start and prove that”.

Vujacic has a reputation of being a lights out shooter from anywhere on the court and is very adept with the ball both off the dribble and the pass. “He’s a special player. Shasha is one of those players who leaves your mouth open with his fantastic plays. Above all he’s a player that plays fearlessly and loves to get his teammates involved”, says coach Cristian Biagini who coached Vujacic on the Snaidero Udine team in the Italian League.

Coach Tomjanovich welcomes the challenge of coaching another shooter the caliber of Vujacic and is more than willing to let the rookie come into his own. “I’m not one of those guys to tell guys not to shoot. You work things out before the game and in practice. I was a shooter, we’re temperamental. I remember my second game in college I think I got 30 points and I made a whole bunch of shots in a row and the assistant coach said you know you jerk your head when you shoot, and the next game I bricked everything. It’s just a sensitive thing with guys. When people ask for help our staff does a really good job with the fundamentals of shooting but rarely do I go in, it’s too personal for a player,” said Tomjanovich.

Vujacic, who was selected as the 27th overall pick by the Lakers is looking forward to playing for the Lakers and Tomjanovich. “I’ve heard he likes hard workers and that he is a great coach. I will work hard to show myself in the right way, to show what I can do when he is there. I’m just looking forward to go there and start the whole thing.”

The Lakers coach is still looking for ways to improve the chemistry of the team that has had a less then stellar preseason despite their 6-2 record going into their November 2nd opener against the much improved Denver Nuggets. “I just go out and try to get us better every day. I want us to be good. I have good feelings about the team. I haven’t seen us in a regular game yet but what I’ve seen I’ve really liked. Our running, our defense has been pretty solid. I think it can get better. Teamwork has been tremendous, and our turnovers have been down. Last game we scored 117 points (against Seattle) and we only had nine turnovers for the whole game,” said Tomjanovich.

“For a team that’s just getting into it pretty good, those things take time to become very efficient at it. You get to know each other and communication on the run seeing a guy in the lane and knowing where he’s going to be it just takes time.

It’s all predicated on defense and rebounding because if you don’t defend or rebound there ain’t no runnin. The other thing is that great running teams on a good day only run about 30 possessions. There’s a heck of a lot more possessions out there, and you gotta have your good half court plays so it’s not all one way. ”