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Reactions
Click here to read how Lakers fans responded.

Click here to visit our archive.

Click here to send us your all-time least favorite roster move, which we might use in future "Say It Ain't So." 

 

Sports fans love to reminisce over the days where it all went wrong: the wasted draft pick, the tragic trade or the defecting hero. These may not be, by definition, the worst roster moves ever made, but they were the ones that affected us on a personal level. These are the events that caused -- and still cause -- us to sit on our bar stools and lament the cruel twists of life.

It seems everything the Lakers touch turns to purple and gold. Even their least popular moves turn into blessings in disguise. For example, their prolonged success has given the Lakers only nine top-10 draft picks since 1965 -- but among them were Gail Goodrich, Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Eddie Jones. So when evaluating L.A. heartbreakers, it has to be done with the understanding that many of them came around to actually make the team better. We start with a history lesson that shows how the Lakers could have had Magic and Bird, then we move onto the recent trade of Eddie Jones and Elden Campbell, the trade of a young Adrian Dantley, the trade of fan favorite Norm Nixon and the deal that sent a reluctant Vlade Divac out of town.

 
December 27,
1977 
Lakers trade a 1st-round pick, Don Chaney and Kermit Washington to Boston for Charlie Scott
 

Never mind the players involved in this trade; they were inconsequential. Neither Scott nor Washington played more than half of a season with the team they were traded to, and Chaney was just going back to Boston to finish his career where it began.

  Bird cover Shhh ... don't tell the Lakers that Larry Bird might be available with the No. 8 pick in 1978. Lane Stewart
Instead, let's look at that first-round pick in the 1978 draft, which the Lakers had acquired from Kansas City the previous summer in a trade for Lucius Allen. Kansas City was no good in 1977-78, and the pick ended up being the No. 8 overall ... and it now belonged to the Celtics, who also had the No. 6 overall.

With two picks so close together, Boston gambled at No. 6 on Larry Bird, whom everybody knew was returning to Indiana State for his senior year but would still belong to the Celtics as long as they signed him before the 1979 draft -- of which there was no guarantee, either. With the pick they acquired from the Lakers at No. 8, the Celtics chose Freeman Williams, whom they felt would step in and help right away.

"If we hadn't had that draft choice from the Lakers, I don't know whether we would have taken Bird," Boston GM Jan Volk would say years later. "We wouldn't have been getting a player we could use immediately in the first round. We weren't in a position at that time to forfeit a No. 1."

As it turned out, Williams never played a game for Boston ... but again, that's inconsequential in history's eyes.

At the time, the Celtics thought Freeman was the immediate help they needed. And if they hadn't had that extra pick at No. 8, they darn well could have picked Freeman at No. 6, leaving Bird available for Portland at No. 7 ... or the Lakers at No. 8

So, let's say the Lakers take a flyer on Bird in 1978. Then they come into the 1979 draft possessing the No. 1 overall pick courtesy of the New Orleans Jazz, who had signed Lakers free agent Gail Goodrich three years earlier.

Boom, they sign Bird, draft Magic, and proceed to win the next 15 NBA titles with a team of Kareem, Magic, Bird, Worthy and Byron Scott.

Instead, they had to settle for winning only five titles in the '80s and reinvigorating the league with the dynamic L.A-Boston, Magic-Bird rivalry.


 
August 13,
1979 
Lakers trade Adrian Dantley to Utah for Spencer Haywood
 

  Adrian Dantley Adrian Dantley averaged a career-high 30.7 points in 1980-81 and 1982-83. Allsport
Hard to understand why a professional scorer like Adrian Dantley would be cut loose by a team that had yet to establish its soon-to-be dynasty. Especially for an erratic player like Spencer "Driftwood," as he was so tabbed by some NBA reporters.

Dantley would go on to average 24.3 points over 15 seasons, including six All-Star appearances, while Haywood would average but 9.7 points in his one season with L.A.

Thank goodness Earl Bloom of the Orange County Register offered the following explanation in 1988, just as Dantley and the Pistons were about to take on the Lakers in the NBA Finals.

  Will Small Forward Return to Haunt the Lakers?
The Orange County Register -- June 7, 1988
By Earl Bloom

Adrian Dantley, a man of a million moves but few words, did not make much of an impact on the Los Angeles sports scene during his brief stay with the Lakers.

It might have been different, though. Much.

In the first days of Jerry Buss' ownership of the franchise, Coach Jack McKinney decided the Lakers were going nowhere fast with two extra-short forwards starting alongside 32-year-old center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who, although no one knew it at the time, had just experienced his last 1,000-rebound season).

Either Jamaal Wilkes (6-6) or Dantley (6-5) would have to go. According to beat writers covering the team then, McKinney had no preference.

Dantley, three years younger than Wilkes and thus with more market value, went to Utah on August 13, 1979, in exchange for 6-9 Spencer Haywood in the first, and also easily the worst, trade made by the Lakers in the Buss era. ...

... Just as it is hard to get a read on the 32-year-old, six-time All-Star's thoughts. If you want offense, A.D.'s your man. If you want elaboration, go elsewhere.

For example: Dantley is asked if he's bitter about missing out on those four NBA titles the Lakers won after his departure.

"Trades are just part of the business," he said Monday in his typical, no-frills style. He knows this all too well, having traveled from Buffalo (where he was the 1977 NBA Rookie of the Year) to Indiana to the Lakers to Utah to Detroit.

"There are things you can't control," Dantley said. "Does Danny Manning have any control over winning a championship because he was drafted by the Clippers? Everyone wants to win a championship." 


 
March 10,
1999 
Lakers trade G Eddie Jones and F Elden Campbell to Charlotte for G B.J. Armstrong, F J.R. Reid and F Glen Rice
 

Talk about a tough room. The Lakers win a title the year after this trade and we receive more than 100 e-mails still bemoaning this trade.

  Jodi, Los Angeles:
The dregs of champagne bottles were trickling down the locker room floor. The fires that had been set roasting on the open Ford Explorers had been extinguished. And nothing mattered because we were the champions. Yet our hero was no longer with us. He, who during the hardest times, had no open aspirations to be "the heir" to the throne but rather with a solemn humility endeavored to conquer for our city the highest glory, had been traded.

  Bryant/Jones Lakers fans saw far too little of Kobe Bryant and Eddie Jones in the backcourt. Aubrey Washington /Allsport
Had it been a worthy trade, as Lynch and Peeler had been, our city could have taken solace. Had it been to persuade our reigning giant or even to draft a shining star, we could have shunned our sorrow. But what we received in return was a quasi-professional who in place of youthful exuberance, wielded rickety robotic legs. We received a whiner, who to this day, pours salt on our wounds while banished to New York. We received along with his wife, a Pyrrhic victory whose cost, while some might forget, will never be forgiven.

What breaks my heart is that he is no longer one of our own. It breaks my heart that the same fans who once chanted "ED-DIE, ED-DIE" wildly have but no choice to exert a reserved ambivalence when our beloved Lakers battle the Heat. It breaks my heart to know that the hero who I grew up with, the champion who brought our city from the lottery back to the playoffs, is never to be ours again. 

 
 
 
Sam, Mountain View, Calif.:
Eddie Jones for Glen Rice. That was one of my saddest days. I didn't understand why the Lakers would want to give up a defender the caliber of Jones for just a pure shooter. Of course, the shooter is Glen Rice, but as we all saw in the 1999-2000 season, Rice couldn't produce the way he had for years in Charlotte. Part of the problem is the fact that he is exclusively an offensive player, and on a team with O'Neal and Bryant he is not going to get that many shots. The Lakers would have still won the title with Jones, and it probably would have been a much easier road for them. Jones can play outstanding defense on any guard or small forward, and he is capable of scoring as well (although inconsistently). Perhaps the reason I miss Jones the most is the fact that he is just a good guy, in a league with selfish money-grubbing egoists. 
 
 
 
Garrick Dee, Manila, Philippines:
Eddie Jones for Glen Rice was one of the worst moves by Jerry West. True, Glen Rice was an All-Star, but he is on the decline while Eddie Jones is going into his prime and a perennial All-Star. Imagine the Lakers now with Kobe and Eddie in their backcourt. If they only knew ... 

  Laker Defense Has Meltdown:
Jones' Return is a Reminder of What Might Have Been and Points Out What the Lakers are Missing on Many Fronts.

The Los Angeles Times -- January 22, 2001
By J.A. Adande

It has been so long, Eddie Jones' return generated little fanfare.

No big buildup or outpouring of sentiment for Jones' first game against the Lakers in Los Angeles since he and Elden Campbell were traded to the Charlotte Hornets on March 10, 1999. Just a warm ovation in the pregame introductions and a few of Jones' old No. 6 Laker jerseys scattered around Staples Center (plus a couple with his original No. 25, for the truly old school).

Perhaps it's because Jones has moved on to another team, the Miami Heat. Perhaps it's because so much has happened since then, including the arrival of Phil Jackson and the departure of Glen Rice.

While time has dulled the emotion from Jones' departure, it can't remove the lingering feeling that the Lakers never should have made the trade. 


 
October 16,
1983 
Lakers trade F Norm Nixon and Eddie Jordan to San Diego for G Byron Scott and Swen Nater
 

Norm Nixon Norm Nixon languished away in San Diego while the Lakers were winning more titles. Scott Cunningham/Allsport  
Norm Nixon became a fan favorite in his six years with the Lakers, six years in which the Lakers won two championships and never missed the postseason. He complemented his on-court showtime with off-court charisma and diverse interests that included playing the trumpet, devouring history books and exploring all of what L.A. had to offer.

His exploits led to what many considered an ill-founded reputation as a troublemaker, or as a player whose mind was not always on the game. His punishment was banishment from one of the league's best teams to one of the worst.

Little did L.A. fans know it, but they would receive a player in Byron Scott who they could love just as easily. When it happened, however, Nixon's departure stung players and fans alike.

"I'm still not sure why they traded me," he said five months later in the San Diego Union-Tribune. "I think somebody high up in the organization wanted me out of there."

"None of us could understand it," said one anonymous Laker. "Norman was one of our key players, he didn't cause problems, and we all got along. But he's a strong-willed, proud guy who has an opinion about everything. Not everybody can deal with that."

  For Nixon, the refusal to look back helps hide
San Diego Union-Tribune -- March 29, 1984
By Bob Slocum

Norm Nixon dressed with haste and answered questions tersely and without great depth last night at the Sports Arena. It was plain that basking in the afterglow of his brilliant shotmaking, his 27 points and the Clippers' 122-115 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers was not something he particularly cared to do -- at least not around strewn jockstraps and motley reporters in the Clipper dressing room.

Nixon, as generally has been his custom for his seven NBA seasons, was extraordinary on this evening. Before the eyes of 8,972, he scored more points than anyone else on the court, he assisted seven times, and stood tall as the veteran adhesive, providing important poise in the final minutes of the game. He also snapped out of a shooting slump, hitting 11 of 16 flings from the field. In the five previous games, uncharacteristically, he had made only about one-third of his shots.

But postgame interrogators wanted to know things like why he had been in that shooting slump and perhaps what right did he have. The examiners wanted to know how it felt to play against his dastardly former employer, and whether he had been out to prove to the Lakers that they made a real knucklehead move when they traded him last October for Byron Scott and Swen Nater.

Well, Nixon didn't particularly need that last night. He has grown weary of pontificating on the psychology, ramifications and reasons of the trade. His demeanor and disposition explained as much clearly last night, even if he didn't.

"I think the trade really hurt Norman," said Clipper coach Jimmy Lynam. 


  Gary W. Rose, San Diego, Calif.:
For me and all true Laker fans of the time, it was when I believe Jerry West chose to send our point guard, Stormin' Norman Nixon to the Clippers for rookie Byron Scott. (Who?) First, it was traumatic obviously to see a human being thrown to the Clippers like a dog being thrown into the pound, because you pretty much know what the outcome will be for him. But second, who was this Scott guy and in exchange for an experienced in-his-prime running mate for Magic? Collectively, we (Laker fans) all knew someone made out like a bandit in this one. Ironically, multiple championships later, we all see that someone did.  

 
July 11,
1996 
Lakers trade C Vlade Divac to Charlotte for G Kobe Bryant
 

  Divac, Bryant  
Vlade Divac admits he was a little miffed at Kobe Bryant for forcing him out of L.A. ... but eventually his good nature came to the surface.
Jed Jacobsohn/Allsport

 
Kobe, Vlade
We know there are some 5-year-olds who will think we're crazy for saying this, but wasn't it a bummer the day the Lakers traded good old Vlade?

Of course, history will remember it differently.

But at the time, it stank of a high school kid declaring his dream to play in the NBA ... but only for the Lakers. Bryant basically strong-armed his way out of Charlotte instead of thanking the Hornets for spending a 13th overall pick on a teenager. He seemed to be giving off a vibe that only a city like L.A. was big enough to hold him.

Who knew he'd be right?

And poor Vlade. He threatened retirement before moving to Charlotte. He loved living in L.A. Nobody was dropping bombs on his home and his wife was an aspiring actress. He even pulled off the memorable line, "I am no longer irritating" in a shaving cream ad. He finally relented after talking with Hornets management and agreed to the trade.

The Lakers obliterated his memory by signing Shaquille O'Neal a week later.

And in the long run, the move probably helped Divac's career, making him a little more aggressive now that he had been jilted in the cruel NBA. He ended up in Sacramento, where he has proven to be a thorn in the mighty Lakers' sides the last couple of seasons.

  Departing Divac 'Not at all Angry'
The Orange County Register -- July 2, 1996
By Janis Carr and Earl Bloom

Vlade Divac returned to his favorite American community Monday not as a complete stranger, but not as a hometown basketball star, either.

The 7-foot center is all but officially an ex-Laker now, after deciding against retirement over the weekend and accepting a trade to the Charlotte Hornets for the rights to first-round draft pick Kobe Bryant.

Divac, though, isn't bitter about being traded after spending his first seven years in the league with the Lakers. He said Monday night he understood that basketball is a business.

With the trade, the Lakers will clear more than $ 3 million in salary cap room (for their expected Shaquille O'Neal quest) and also bring in the youngest player in their history in Bryant, who won't be 18 until Aug. 23.

"I knew they were thinking about getting Shaq and obviously in order to do that, they needed to trade me," Divac said. "I am not at all angry with the Lakers. The thing is, they are like my family. When I came here they were wonderful to me, so I want to help them in any way I can. " 


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