It may have seemed like the Lakers had a relatively easy time with the Chicago Bulls last night, with Pau Gasol being able to do whatever he wanted offensively and the team cruising to victory. But not all was perfect in Laker-land, as two of the team's bench players had a public disagreement on the basketball court.
Trevor Ariza and Sasha Vujacic exchanged words early in the second quarter, and were separated as the team headed into a timeout. Ariza had passed the ball out to Sasha from underneath the basket, and Vujacic held it for a moment before jacking up a three-pointer. Ariza wasn't fond of that decision, so he got in Sasha's face about it. The two were both benched, and Phil Jackson -- who rarely intervenes in these matters -- walked to the end of the bench to have a chat with Ariza.
Neither player wanted to continue the discussion after the game, although Sasha did seem to still be annoyed by the incident, making it clear who he thought was to blame:
"I wasn't doing anything. I was playing basketball. ... Have I done anything? Have I reacted inappropriately? Was I unprofessional?"
Ariza was more interested in leaving the incident in the past.
"It wasn't anything big. We both want to win. We're out there and we're competing, and we just had a little disagreement, that's all."
That should be the end of it, but for anyone who likes to downplay Phil Jackson's many successes as a head coach, this is where he earns his money. It's easy to say that he's had the best players and that's why he's won so many championships, but unless you can successfully manage the personalities and egos on the team, all the talent in the world won't make a difference. Phil intervened immediately because, whether Ariza was right about Sasha making a poor decision or not, you simply can't have players go at it like that during a game.
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As a side note, Lamar Odom, for all of his on-again, off-again discontent this season, is truly a good locker room guy and a teammate that all of the players respect. He spent time chatting with Vujacic, and then got a laugh out of Ariza by dancing to the arena music, doing his part to put both players back in better spirits to start the second half.