Why LA Lakers Need More Guys Like Robert Sacre

David Murphy@@davem234Featured ColumnistMarch 25, 2014

MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 23: Robert Sacre #50 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on January 23, 2014 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Picked dead last in the 2012 draft, not many people would have expected Robert Sacre to still be in the NBA. Yet here he is nearly two years later, playing key minutes for the Los Angeles Lakers.

He also happens to be just one of three Lakers with a guaranteed contract for next season. The other two? Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.

The roster will need to be filled, to put it mildly. And the team could use more guys in the mold of Sacre. Not in an offensive juggernaut way—the backup center is anchoring the bottom of the scoring ladder at just 4.7 points per game. Yet he keeps motoring along, often playing while Chris Kaman watches forlornly from the bench.

So why is Sacre getting the minutes while others don’t? The low-post pounder certainly doesn’t stretch the floor like a typical Mike D’Antoni frontcourt player. Nope, it’s all about heart and hustle.

Per Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times, the Lakers head coach cares about the effort:

He works harder than anyone on the team, without a doubt, it's not even close.  In the weight room, on the floor, before practice, he's trying to make himself into a player. That's one of the reasons why I'm going to go with him and reward him—and then he's playing well. He's probably our best defensive player on the team.

For those who think D’Antoni cares only about putting the biscuit in the bucket, the heavily tattooed Energizer bunny is proof otherwise. In the same Times article, the second-year player voiced his willingness to pay back the confidence: "I know I need to get better. This is my job. This is my profession. If you were working on cars, you always have to keep getting better, right?"

Rightly put. Maybe this guy’s nickname should be “The Mechanic.”

Sacre originally hails from Ville Platte, Louisiana. His parents, Greg LaFleur and Leslie Sacre, met at LSU, where they were standout athletes—LaFleur in football and Sacre as a member of the Lady Tigers basketball squad. LaFleur went on to a pro NFL career as a tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles, the Indianapolis Colts and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Leslie moved back to her native Canada when Robert was seven, raising him in Vancouver, B.C., as a single mom. Sacre spent summers in Louisiana with his dad and grandparents.

Per Jim Meehan of The Spokesman-Review, Sacre had no problem adapting to life in Canada, and at age nine asked if he could get a basketball hoop. His mom’s response was as grounded as it gets:

I said, ‘OK, on a couple of conditions. I won’t coach you because this has to be your passion and your drive. I will be mom and you need somebody to complain to when the coach frustrates you.’ The other condition was when the game was over he was never to look at stats because it was how the team performed, not the stats, that made the difference.

Gus Ruelas/Associated Press

After high school, Sacre went on to play for Gonzaga for five seasons—he broke his right foot twice, early in his sophomore year, and subsequently redshirted. The hustle player finished his career as the No. 2 all-time shot-blocker for the Zags.

When draft night rolled around in 2012, Sacre watched the results on TV with family members in Ville Platte. The second round was winding down to the dregs, and most of the players being selected were not exactly household names in this country.

Whatever happened to guys like Kostas Papanikolaou, Izzat Turkyilmiz, Furkan Aldemir, Tomislav Zubic or Ilkan Karaman? Answer—they’re making a living playing basketball overseas and have yet to experience the NBA sun.

And at the last possible moment, Sacre’s name was announced—the 60th pick by the Lakers, a team he had never even worked out for.

So far, it’s worked out pretty good.

The 7-foot, 265-pound utility big man appeared in 32 games his rookie season, averaging just 1.3 points and less than one rebound per 6.3 minutes. This season, he’s upped his production considerably, even if the numbers won’t blow anyone away. Still, he’s on the floor, and that’s what matters.

Remember what his mom said about not paying attention to stats? Of course, the Lakers’ record this year is horrific, but you can’t lay that at the feet of one of the few guys who bothers showing up on defense.

So yes, the unlikeliest Laker makes good, to a point. But it shouldn’t be a surprise if you look at the plain and simple picture—he does what he’s asked to do without questions or conflict. He gets up and down the court as fast as he can, sets up shop and creates havoc with opposing players. And he has a decent baby hook shot and an effective turnaround fadeaway jumper.

There’s room for improvement, to be sure. Sacre should be gobbling up a lot more boards than his rather dismal 3.5 average this season—that’s just not right for a guy who earns his paycheck down on the block. But he’ll be back next season, and it seems likely he’ll continue to work on his game. Like that quote of his about working on cars.

Why do the Lakers need more guys like Sacre? Because the game’s not just about superstars, or those who loft beautiful high-arcing shots that hit nothing but net from way downtown. It’s not all about glitz and glamour and the degree of difficulty.

Because there’s still a place for the lunch-bucket player in the NBA, despite all rumors to the contrary.

And because if this palooka can convince a small-ball disciple like D’Antoni, that’s all the proof you really need.


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