2 Los Angeles Lakers Instead of getting fat and happy, the defending champs spent the summer getting better

October 30, 2000

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

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.


COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH [T of C] COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN Inside Out After deeming his drives too predictable, Bryant practiced his outside jump shots--by the thousands.

In Fact

This season the Lakers stand an excellent chance of becoming the
only active NBA franchise with an alltime winning record on the
road. They enter 2000-01 with an away mark of 951-957 (.498).

Projected Lineup


SF Rick Fox 6.5 ppg 2.4 rpg 1.7 apg 41.4 FG% 32.6 3FG%

PF Horace Grant[1] 8.1 ppg 7.8 rpg 2.5 apg 0.79 bpg 44.4 FG%

C Shaquille O'Neal 29.7 ppg 13.6 rpg 3.03 bpg 57.4 FG% 52.4 FT%

SG Kobe Bryant 22.5 ppg 6.3 rpg 4.9 apg 1.61 spg 46.8 FG%

PG Ron Harper 7.0 ppg 4.2 rpg 3.4 apg 1.06 spg 39.9 FG%


G Isaiah Rider[1] 19.3 ppg 4.3 rpg 3.7 apg 41.9 FG% 31.1 3FG%

F Robert Horry 5.7 ppg 4.8 rpg 1.6 apg 1.05 bpg 1.11 spg

G Brian Shaw 4.1 ppg 2.9 rpg 2.7 apg 38.2 FG% 31.0 3FG%

G-F Devean George 3.2 ppg 1.5 rpg 38.9 FG% 34.0 3FG% 65.9 FT%

C Greg Foster[1] 3.4 ppg 1.8 rpg 0.3 bpg 40.6 FG% 64.3 FT%

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

an opposing team's scout sizes up the Lakers

"There's really no clear way to attack this team. Your best
chance is to get them in an up-tempo game; that lessens
Shaquille O'Neal's impact a bit, and they don't have many guys
who like to play that way....It helps to go right at Kobe Bryant
and draw him into an individual battle with the guy he's matched
with. He sometimes gets too zoned in on the "me versus him" part
of the game, and it makes him less effective....Horace Grant is
on the downward slope of his career, but he knows Phil Jackson's
system, and he can step out and make a shot to open things up
for Shaq....If Phil can handle Dennis Rodman, he can handle
Isaiah Rider. Rider seems to be an intelligent guy, but he can't
deal with the pressure of being the main guy very well; he runs
into problems when he's asked to carry a team. Here he can just
come off the bench and do his job without too much
attention....One thing the Lakers are missing is some youth off
the bench, somebody dynamic who can change the rhythm of the