Reporting from Washington —
In a move to bolster front-court depth and save about $8 million in salary and luxury taxes, the Lakers agreed to send Sasha Vujacic and a 2011 first-round draft pick to New Jersey as part of a three-team trade that would bring veteran forward Joe Smith to the Lakers.
As the fifth guard in Phil Jackson's four-guard rotation, Vujacic had seen his playing time reduced to almost nothing this season. The trade is contingent upon Smith, 35, passing a physical.
Smith was the top overall pick in the 1995 draft, but those days are long behind him. He has seen a downturn in his statistics in recent seasons and played only four games for the Nets this season, averaging 0.5 points and 0.8 rebounds.
Listed at 6 feet 10, Smith possesses a decent mid-range jump shot and can provide a handful of minutes here and there. He averaged 9.3 minutes a game last season for Atlanta, averaging three points and 2.5 rebounds a game.
When considering luxury-tax implications and comparing the difference remaining on Vujacic's and Smith's contracts, the Lakers save millions with the trade, which also involved New Jersey sending forward Terrance Williams to Houston and could involve another non-Lakers player to make the exchanged salaries match up under NBA trade guidelines.
Vujacic, 26, is averaging only 1.8 points and 4.9 minutes a game. He played in 12 of the Lakers' 25 games.
In a strange, potentially awkward scenario, Vujacic suited up for their game Tuesday against Washington and was on the bench despite the news being broken of his trade.
In the third quarter, the scoreboard showed him sitting next to Andrew Bynum during a "Kiss Cam" portion of a timeout. Vujacic laughed and tried to move out of the camera operator's vision.
The Lakers declined to comment on the trade, and Vujacic spoke briefly after the game.
"I don't know what to say right now," he said before turning his focus toward the Nets. "They're a young team. They're rebuilding their franchise and they're going to be interesting."
He said his lack of playing time this season had been a "terrible" experience.
"The last couple years playing on and off, it was just killing me," he said. "If [the trade] happens, then I want to definitely double what I did in L.A."
Vujacic is making $5.5 million in the last season of a three-year, $15-million contract he signed in the summer of 2008 to stay with the Lakers. That deal came after his best season with the Lakers, Vujacic averaging 8.8 points and shooting an impressive 43.7% from three-point range in 2007-08, numbers he never matched again.
Smith is making a relatively low $1.4 million this season, almost half of which is paid by the NBA because it is a veteran's minimum salary.
The Lakers also saved money by trading their first-round selection in next June's draft, eliminating at least a two-year guaranteed commitment to a rookie, assuming the Lakers do not trade back into the draft.
Their first-round selection figured to be a low one and would mark a fourth consecutive year without a Lakers' first-round selection.
Waiting on Ratliff
The Lakers got back one of their centers when Bynum made his season debut Tuesday, but backup Theo Ratliff is still recovering from Nov. 17 knee surgery.
Ratliff was scheduled to be out four to six weeks, meaning he would miss at least two more weeks if that time frame held.
"Everything is progressing and I just keep on working and try to get out there as soon as possible," Ratliff said.