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Vujacic might play the European card

Restricted free agent hasn't received an offer sheet because it is believed the Lakers would match it.

July 25, 2008|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

Lakers reserve guard Sasha Vujacic, a restricted free agent, is prepared to leave the team and accept an offer from a European team in the next few days if the Lakers don't make him an offer he deems fair, according to a source in the Vujacic camp who spoke only on the condition of anonymity.

The source said Vujacic is seeking a multiyear deal from the Lakers averaging about $5 million a year. Vujacic was hoping for a six-year deal, but anticipated it could be a shorter contract.

Vujacic, who earned $1.76 million last season, was given a $2.6-million qualifying offer by the Lakers after the season to make him a restricted free agent.

He has not received an offer sheet from another NBA team. Teams were hesitant to make Vujacic an offer because they anticipate the Lakers would match it, the source said.

The Lakers made a qualifying offer to another of their free agents, forward Ronny Turiaf, but when Turiaf received a four-year, $17-million offer sheet from the Golden State Warriors, the Lakers declined to match it.

Because the Lakers are over the luxury tax, they would be assessed an amount equal to any sum they spend over it.

Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak has been negotiating with Vujacic's agent, Rob Pelinka.

"We are very aware of the global market as it has changed over the years. It was our desire to bring Sasha and Ronny back. It continues to be our desire to bring Sasha back," Kupchak said Thursday after hearing of Vujacic's ultimatum. "However, with the ever-changing marketplace that Europe has become, a player, in order to cover his bases, can negotiate with his NBA team and, at the same time, have a plan that allows him to have the possibility of going overseas."

Jumping from the NBA to Europe has become a viable option for several players, the latest being Josh Childress, who Wednesday revealed that he is leaving the Atlanta Hawks to play for Olympiakos, a Greek club, for a three-year deal worth about $20 million after taxes.

The 24-year-old Vujacic, a native of Maribor, Slovenia, just completed his fourth and best season with the Lakers. Vujacic averaged 8.8 points in 17.8 minutes this past season, shooting 45.4% from the field, including 43.7% from three-point range. In the postseason, Vujacic averaged 21.7 minutes, 8.1 points and shot 39.9% from the floor, including 39.2% on three-pointers.

Kupchak, while refusing to discuss numbers, said of the negotiations with Pelinka, "It's our intention to have a happy ending."

Kupchak says he agrees that the situation should be resolved in the next few days.

"When the free agency period rolled around," he said, "Sasha needed to get a feel of what the market would be like. After 20-something days, he's had enough time to get a feel. It's time this came to a conclusion."

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The Clippers lost a chance to bolster their backcourt Thursday when the Warriors matched their three-year, $9-million deal for restricted free agent Kelenna Azubuike. Azubuike, 24, has played two seasons for the Warriors. Last year, the 6-foot-5 guard averaged 8.5 points and four rebounds in 81 games.

The London-born Azubuike, who played for Kentucky, joined the Warriors after playing in the NBA Development League. "He's a young and talented player who has continued to improve during his two seasons with our team. His versatility, athleticism and ability to shoot the three-pointer certainly fit our style of play," said Chris Mullin, the Warriors' executive vice president of basketball operations.

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Times staff writer Barry Stavro contributed to this report.

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steve.springer@latimes.com

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