View Full Version : Ring. Ring. Ring. Anyone Home?--Lakers article

12-28-2002, 01:22 PM

Ring. Ring. Ring. Anyone Home?

After three consecutive championships, Lakers learning their best may not be good enough anymore

Mark Heisler

December 27 2002

Having taken their long-awaited reality check and failed it, the 11-19 Lakers now enter a state, which was always out there but never actually experienced in the three-plus years of their dynasty:


More could be in peril than just the season. A December loss is never actually devastating but this is a group that barely withstood prosperity, winning its three titles amid constant wrangling.

What will happen now when they have to fight through four months of grinding adversity, which might not have the usual happy ending?

In what might have been a (tiny) sign that they're pulling together, the players asked Coach Phil Jackson, who would have given them the day off, if they could get together Thursday morning.

Or maybe it wasn't that big a deal.

"They wanted to get out of the house," said Jackson. "You know, they've probably got guests and company ... "

So, other than Shaquille O'Neal's wedding, which reminded them that life goes on and is even bigger than basketball, things didn't look a lot better for the Lakers, as far as their jobs went, the day after.

Christmas certainly looked devastating. On the Lakers' own floor, the Sacramento Kings took their best shot and brushed them aside like ants. Even Kobe Bryant, whose confidence and denial mechanisms are up there, said flatly that the Lakers had played well, meaning they (gulp) weren't good enough.

The day after, someone asked a subdued Rick Fox, with a new year coming, shouldn't it be out with the old and in with the new?

"I'd be careful with that," said Fox, grinning. "At my age, I don't qualify as young."

Nor is it as simple as making one cut and throwing the ball to Shaq and Kobe anymore.

Jackson is still trying to get Bryant calibrated (that's not enough shots, oops, that's too many) and Shaq isn't up to carrying a franchise at present.

Jackson shook up things further on Christmas, musing that O'Neal might never have his old explosion, but said Thursday he thinks Shaq is better than he was last season.

Last season, O'Neal scored 41 and 35 points in Games 6 and 7 against the Kings in the playoffs but he wasn't close to that man on Christmas. In any case, Jackson says Shaq will need a lot more help. Now, it's rally 'round their big guy.

"I just know he's working real hard in all aspects to get his game to 100%," Jackson said.

"He's giving us the best kind of effort that he can give and that's good.... You have no gripes, no hopes, no anticipations that he's going to be playing at another level and elevate his level from what he's at.

"What I'm asking is for the other players who play around him to play at another level. Kobe's defense, you know he's an all-defensive player. His ability to take good, quality shots.

"Rick's ability to be an offensive threat and do some things with the basketball that create penetration and assists.

"Derek Fisher's shooting and his choice of shots and his ability to make the right decisions ... has to improve.

"Samaki [Walker] has got to stay within the offense and understand what the triangle's all about....

"Rob [Horry] has to give us a little bit more than a lick and a promise, even if he physically is not ready to play or not physically 100% every night. He's got to give more to the team defensively than he has or been able to lately.

"Our bench guards have to come in and give us a lift. Our short-term backup players have to do the job they can do. Slava [Medvedenko] come in and score, Mark Madsen rebound and defend.

"It goes on and on, down the line."

This season, it hasn't been going at all, which has been the problem.

There are other things they have done in the past that won't be helpful under present conditions, either.

Like: How about knocking off the finger-pointing?

Of course, they're used to doing it but now it's an indulgence they can no longer afford.

How about knocking off the "trade speculation" that's really just wishful thinking?

The reality is that any "deal" you hear about, in which the Lakers get a starting player, is nonsense, as is any "deal" in which Bryant is moved. No cavalry will be riding over the hill in the form of Latrell Sprewell or Bonzi Wells.

How about knocking off the feud stuff, at least until you're good enough to hold up your end of the rivalry?

It's borderline amusing when they win but dishonors them now.

Teammates urged Fox not to shake Doug Christie's hand, to preserve some kind of psych or mental edge, although it didn't turn out to be that important, did it?

This season, the Lakers may have to show they can lose with as much grace -- OK, more would be good -- as they won with, rather than going the way of the 1991 Detroit Pistons, who walked off the court in the closing seconds while being eliminated by the Chicago Bulls, to their everlasting shame.

Any of you guys up for a little desperation?

At this very early but very low point, nothing less will do.

Copyright 2002 Los Angeles Times