#1 Los Angeles Lakers They're deep, gifted and, often, lost. In a pair of Dereks, they may have finally gotten the point

February 08, 1999

Media day at the Great Western Forum: On opposite sides of
midcourt stand the Lakers' point guards, third-year man Derek
Fisher, who assumed the starting slot when Nick Van Exel was van
exiled to Denver, and 37-year-old Derek Harper, a free-agent
signee. A couple of reporters lean in to hear Fisher's
self-deprecating words, his voice barely a whisper. Harper,
meanwhile, is holding forth for a dozen notebooks, his booming
pipes filling the Forum with all the wisdom that comes with 15
years in the league. Two Dereks, two approaches. Together they
have a chance to unlock the explosive Lakers' potential.

Van Exel was the wrong player to run the L.A. offense, a
shoot-first point guard who was volatile on and off the court.
Fisher's game is old school, modeled after his idol, John
Stockton: defensive ball pressure, crafty but controlled
playmaking, occasional forays to the hoop. But even in his new
role, the 6'1" Fisher has been hesitant to take command. As for
Harper? "He was the voice of this team from the moment he hit
the front door," says Fisher. "We're all young guys--we grew up
watching Harp on TV. Of course he's got our respect." Harper can
do more than spin yarns. At 6'4" (and a buff 206 pounds) he
remains a defensive stopper, although in limited bursts, and his
perimeter shooting will help open up the middle for Shaquille

Even without Harper's help Shaq will usually get his 28 and 11.
Who will play in his shadow at power forward is the Lakers'
biggest concern. Robert Horry will probably reprise his starting
role, even though he is a perimeter player at heart. Elden
Campbell has the body but not the soul--in training camp he voiced
his displeasure at the team's unending attempts to trade him and
then skipped media day, an act that probably foreshadows a
seasonlong mope-a-thon.

Not lacking for enthusiasm is 20-year-old sixth man Kobe Bryant,
thanks in part to the six-year, $70.8 million contract extension
he signed last week. He came into camp in stellar shape, bragging
about his new "guns." Take a deep breath, David Stern--Bryant was
referring to his pumped-up biceps. After two years of getting
backed into the post on defense, he has added 15 pounds of muscle
while extending his shooting range, especially off the dribble.
No matter how much he's grown, though, Bryant will still be a
backup to Rick Fox at the three-spot and All-Star Eddie Jones at
the two.

Clearly firepower is not a problem, but all these weapons didn't
prevent the Lakers from being swept by the Jazz in last year's
Western Conference finals. That humbling experience has made this
young team eager to learn from its mistakes. In Harper it may
have found the right instructor.

--Alan Shipnuck

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Drive time The freewheeling Bryant comes off the bench to energize the Lakers.


Starters PVR* 1997-98 Key Stats

SF Rick Fox 94 12.0 ppg 4.4 rpg 3.4 apg 1.22 spg
PF Robert Horry 116 7.4 ppg 7.5 rpg 1.56 spg 1.31 bpg
C Shaquille O'Neal 2 28.3 ppg 11.4 rpg 2.40 bpg 58.4 FG%
SG Eddie Jones 35 16.9 ppg 3.8 rpg 48.4 FG% 38.9 3FG%
PG Derek Fisher 111 5.8 ppg 4.1 apg 2.4 rpg 43.4 FG%

Top Reserves Bench Ranking (out of 29 teams): 3

G-F Kobe Bryant 81 15.4 ppg 3.1 rpg 2.5 apg 42.8 FG%
F-C Elden Campbell 156 10.1 ppg 5.6 rpg 1.26 bpg 46.3 FG%
G Derek Harper[+] 183 8.6 ppg 3.5 apg 1.09 spg 41.7 FG%

1997-98 Record: 61-21 (tied for first in Pacific)
Coach: Del Harris (fifth season with Lakers)

[+]New acquisition
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 68)

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)