Rugby World Cup
This Week's Issue
Life of Reilly
SI for Women
CNN/SI - TV
Golf Pro Shop
Soccer Gear Store
NFL Gear Store
SI FOR KIDS
INSIDE THE NBA
Opposing coaches and players approach Lakers coach Del Harris gingerly"like I have a terminal illness," he says. Through Sunday, Los Angeles had won 16 of its last 18 games and completed a 4-0 swing through the Eastern Conference, yet Harris's future was in doubt, hinging on how deep into the postseason he could take a team with a nucleus of players whose average age is 25.6. Would only a championship save him? Would a trip to the NBA Finals be enough? Would an appearance in the Western Conference finals allow him keep his job?
Curiously, Harris is not the only top coach facing an uncertain future. Phil Jackson of the Bulls, George Karl of the Sonics and Jerry Sloan of the Jazz must either mend relations with their front offices or make impressive playoff runs to keep their jobs. These coaches had four of the league's five best records at week's end, and each had a trip to the Finals on his resume. "I'm comfortable with whatever happens," Harris says. "Maybe it sounds idealistic, but whenever one door closes for me, another seems to open."
Though at times the Lakers show an appalling inability to play team basketball, their talent is second to none. Harris recognizes, however, that athleticism is not enough. "There are a lot of talented people in prison," he says. "There are talented people who can't hold a job. In many ways the tag of 'talent' is a curse for us. You need a certain number of disappointments before you realize that opportunities don't come that often. You need a measure of maturity before you start setting aside individual goals, because they don't matteronly winning does."
Harris can't understand why people in the basketball world aren't more patient. "Four or five years ago, everyone was saying Jerry Sloan was boring," he says. "They said Utah would never get to the Finals with Karl Malone and John Stockton. Three or four years ago, they had given up on Seattlethere was no way they'd get back to the top with George Karl. But look what happened when those franchises stayed with it. We took away most of Utah's main plays last season in the playoffs, but because the Jazz know each other so well, they found ways to beat us with 10 seconds on the shot clock."
Lakers forward Rick Fox, who played alongside veterans Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish on the Celtics, believes his current teammates lack the concentration needed to take a title. "I'm worried about it," he says. "We all should be. We don't do the same things night in and night out. Sometimes we're great in the half-court, but the next night we're terrible. Championship teams get to the point where execution is second nature. We don't have that."
How can L.A. compensate for a shortage of experience? "We have to be hungrier," says 19-year-old Kobe Bryant. "That makes up for a lot. But I don't doubt this team. We'll get there one day. It's not a matter of if but when."
That is of little solace to Harris, for whom it's probably now or never.
Issue date: April 13, 1998
Copyright © 1999 CNN/SI. A Time Warner Company.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.