SALT LAKE CITY — When Sasha Vujacic returns, will he be a secret weapon off the bench or continue to shoot astray?
The reserve guard said he would be available for the Western Conference finals after sitting out since April 14 because of a severely sprained left ankle, but his regular-season numbers were purely underwhelming -- 2.8 points in 8.6 minutes a game, 30.9% from three-point range.
Lakers coaches have been saying Vujacic's presence is missed on the court. He'll get a chance to prove it next week.
"He can help us do some things that we haven't covered yet with our personnel we have on the bench," Coach Phil Jackson said. "We're really looking at it at the defensive end, to cover guys coming off picks, with his quickness and his ability to focus on guys."
Vujacic started to play better the final two weeks of the regular season, averaging six points and 15.7 minutes a game in April as the Lakers battled a variety of injuries, specifically those sustained by Kobe Bryant.
Vujacic, who has one more year on his contract for $5.5 million, has been itching to return.
"It's been killing me; there's no secret about it," he said.
He could come in handy against Phoenix, which loves to push the pace, make teams go deep into their bench, and run myriad screen-and-rolls with Steve Nash.
"Of course, I know that," Vujacic said. "I've been to the playoffs now five times with the team. Sometimes in the playoffs, experience comes into play a little bit. I can't predict anything, but whenever I get those consistent minutes like I did at the end of the season, I started enjoying it. Whenever my team needs me, whatever I have to do -- play defense, make some shots -- I'll do it."
Bryant, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol might skip their international commitments during the off-season, which is fine with somebody of particular importance: NBA Commissioner David Stern.
"It's OK if they take some time off and if we have some of the newer players [representing]," Stern said Monday, speaking generally about veteran players not committing to international play this off-season.
Gasol does not plan on playing for the Spanish national team, and Bryant and Odom might also sit out a Team USA schedule that includes a training camp in Las Vegas in late June and the World Championship in Turkey beginning in late August.
San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich surely wasn't thrilled to be swept by Phoenix in the semifinals.
Then again, he might not have been eager to play the Lakers had the Spurs advanced to the conference finals.
As the regular season concluded, Popovich was asked by reporters how much he wanted to face the Lakers in the playoffs, on a scale of one to 10.
His answer: "Minus-five."