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2 LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Phil Taylor
October 30, 2000
Instead of getting fat and happy, the defending champs spent the summer getting better
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October 30, 2000

2 Los Angeles Lakers

Instead of getting fat and happy, the defending champs spent the summer getting better

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Projected Lineup

STARTERS

PVR*

1999-2000 KEY STATS

SF

Rick Fox

135

6.5 ppg

2.4 rpg

1.7 apg

41.4 FG%

32.6 3FG%

PF

Horace Grant

120

8.1 ppg

7.8 rpg

2.5 apg

0.79 bpg

44.4 FG%

C

Shaquille O'Neal

1

29.7 ppg

13.6 rpg

3.03 bpg

57.4 FG%

52.4 FT%

SG

Kobe Bryant

9

22.5 ppg

6.3 rpg

4.9 apg

1.61 spg

46.8 FG%

PG

Ron Harper

171

7.0 ppg

4.2 rpg

3.4 apg

1.06 spg

39.9FG%

BENCH

PVR*

1999-2000 KEY STATS

G

Isaiah Rider

111

19.3 ppg

4.3 rpg

3.7 apg

41.9 FG%

31.13FG%

F

Robert Horry

176

5.7 ppg

4.8 rpg

1.6 apg

1.05 bpg

1.11 spg

G

Brian Shaw

243

4.1 ppg

2.9 rpg

2.7 apg

38.2 FG%

31.0 3FG%

G-F

Devean George

262

3.2 ppg

1.5 rpg

38.9 FG%

34.0 3FG%

65.9 FT%

C

Greg Foster

280

3.4 ppg

1.8 rpg

0.3 bpg

40.6 FG%

64.3 FT%

New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 113)

The Lakers' off-Season sounds like one of those touchy-feely Oprah episodes—all about self-improvement. Guard Kobe Bryant, concerned that defenders feared his drives to the basket far more than his jump shot, says he spent the summer making 2,000 jumpers a day from 15 feet and beyond. Not taking 2,000. Making 2,000. If that's true, it's no wonder he didn't get married in the off-season as originally planned. He didn't have time.

Center Shaquille O'Neal, MVP of everything there was to be MVP of last season, spent his vacation hitting the books, coming up two correspondence courses shy of the college diploma he promised his mother, Lucille Harrison, he would earn when he left LSU to turn pro after his junior year. While O'Neal was feeding his mind, team owner Jerry Buss was feeding Shaq's bank account, signing him to a three-year, $88.4 million extension that should keep him in purple-and-gold through 2004-05. Los Angeles doesn't have to worry about the added millions dulling O'Neal's appetite for a second straight title. "Winning one championship trophy is like having one car," he said the day the new deal was announced, with his Rolls-Royce waiting in the parking lot. "It's not enough for me."

Nor is it enough for the Los Angeles brain trust, which went about upgrading the rest of the team. The Lakers addressed their weakness at power forward by acquiring Horace Grant from the Sonics in a four-team deal. They also added shooting guard Isaiah Rider, also known as J.R., also known to his three previous teams as Big Trouble. Rider will probably come off the bench, but if he can keep his head on, he may get enough minutes to allow Bryant to move to small forward, a prospect Bryant relishes.

Coach Phil Jackson apparently plans to deal with the often rebellious Rider the same way he treated Dennis Rodman in Chicago—by treating his misbehavior with a yawn. After only a few days of training camp Jackson casually mentioned to reporters, unprompted, that Rider had already been late for practice once. Rider explained that he had made it to the court just in time but that since his shoelaces were untied, he was considered unprepared and therefore late. The details didn't matter. Jackson had sent the message that there would be no wringing of hands over Rider's behavior nor any attempts to cover up his violations. In short, the Lakers don't need Rider so much that they have to treat him as if he were made of crystal.

Rider was often one of the last Lakers to leave practice during training camp, staying behind for some intense one-on-one battles against Bryant, with whom he has become fast friends. "Right now Kobe's definitely getting the best of me," says Rider, who hasn't played in an NBA game since he was waived by the Hawks on March 20. "I'll give him more of a battle as time goes on."

Rider's ability is unquestioned, but his maturity is in doubt. Grant's situation is exactly the opposite. He will clearly bring more stability to the L.A. locker room, but 13 years of banging, the last of them against bigger men as a center in Seattle, have taken their toll. Still, Jackson believes that Grant has enough left to provide the rebounding and defense that the Lakers need to lighten O'Neal's load.

Jackson's probably right about Grant, and the early returns indicate that Rider may give the nondescript bench the offensive boost it needs. But the most encouraging sign for the Lakers is that O'Neal and Bryant seem as hungry as ever. Their formidable Western Conference challengers, particularly the bulked-up Trail Blazers, are in hot pursuit, but those teams had better realize that the Lakers are picking up speed.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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