Archives For laker History

When Byron Scott was named head coach of the Lakers, one of the major reasons he received instant backing from a healthy portion of the fan base was because of his history as a Laker. The bulk of his career was spent as a member of the Showtime era teams and his legacy is one of a key contributor to championship glory. This history has earned him a credibility that other candidates could not match. I mean when Magic, Silk, and the Captain show up to your introductory presser the goodwill transposed upon you is massive.

Scott will need more than goodwill to succeed, though. He has inherited a mismatched roster mixed with veterans possessing proud histories and young players looking to build their names and continue to progress on an upward trajectory. Managing this situation will not be easy and Scott will need to draw on all his experiences as a coach and as a member of those championship teams to find workable solutions.

If Scott looks back, though, he should find at least one comparison that could aid him in his success.

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How did we get here?

Daniel Rapaport —  July 19, 2014

The glory days of Kobe and Phil may seem like ages ago, but a quick peek at a calendar reminds you that it really was only three years ago that the Lakers sat at top of the NBA pyramid. But my, oh my, how things have changed. The roster doesn’t look good, the future isn’t looking all that bright, and we still don’t have a coach. So, how did we get here? Let’s take a step-by-step look at just how things went so sour so quickly for the Lakers, starting with the end of the Phil era.

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The current Lakers’ season has been a challenging one. If there was a single year that would have fans longing for a previous era of glory, this one would certainly be it. Well, for those wanting some nostalgia and great insight in one of the great dynasties in league history, you are in luck.

On March 4th, Jeff Pearlman’s SHOWTIME: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s was released for mass consumption. You can get your copy here. The book offers fantastic stories, great memories, and a behind the scenes look into the people who made up one of the most dominant runs the NBA has ever seen. What follows is an excerpt on Pat Riley. Enjoy.

showtime

By Jeff Pearlman

I spent about two years working on Showtime, and it was an absolute joy. The book chronicles the Lakers dynasty from 1979-91, and while there were dozens of fascinating characters, few were as riveting as Coach Pat Riley.

When he was hired to replace Paul Westhead, Riley was a casual, easy-going man who was beloved by his players. With success, however, came an ever-growing ego. By the time the Lakers met Detroit in the 1989 NBA Finals, Los Angeles had a real problem.

Pat Riley could have waited. A day. Two days, perhaps. He could have taken some time to think about his players and his team; whether they would be best served by peace and solitude and a light work load; whether a veteran point guard who had endured 2,886 minutes in the regular season and a forty-two-year-old center and a battered roster would, perhaps, benefit from some time away from the court, sitting on a beach or inside a movie theatre or at home with the wife and kids.

He could have. He chose not to. Following the series-clinching win over Phoenix to reach the 1989 NBA Finals, Riley was asked by Mark Zeigler of the San Diego Union-Tribune whether he would allow for a period of rest and relaxation. The coach didn’t pause to consider a reply. “Our players,” he said, “will wish that this series went longer. It will be a very hard week for them. The practices will be tough. Now is no time to relax.”

On the morning of May 31, the Lakers traveled ninety-five miles north to Santa Barbara, where they would spend much of the subsequent three days locked inside the Westmount College gymnasium (aka: the depths of basketball hell). Three hours before the first two p.m. practice, the team bus stopped at the luxurious Biltmore in Montecito, a hotel that charged $500 per night for a room. This was Riley’s little touch—a carrot in front of the wagon. Rich basketball players like fancy accommodations, and the coach surely thought his men would be wooed by the fine linens and a top- shelf room-service menu. He was, however, wrong.

The members of the Los Angeles Lakers were pissed off.

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Before there was a LeBron James, a Michael Jordan or a Dr. J, there was Elgin Baylor.

This week LeBron made headlines talking about the NBA’s Mount Rushmore, talking about how one day he’ll have to be up on that mountain as one of the best four players to ever play the game. Whether that ends up being true or not remains to be seen, though LeBron is undoubtedly an all-timer.

What was interesting about LeBron’s comments was how he struggled to come up with his list. He mentioned Jordan, Magic and Bird as his first three, but then paused a long moment and finally mentioned Oscar Robertson has his fourth guy. I won’t knock any of those players as they, like LeBron himself, all deserve the stature they have achieved as some of the game’s greatest players.

What I find interesting, however, is that certain players always seem to be forgotten when these conversations come up. I’ve mentioned in the past that Kareem is one such player. Another is former Celtic great John Havlicek. But there may not be a player who was as great as Baylor who seems to never be mentioned by current players as the former Laker great.

When you watch the video above, you can see the roots of the modern game in his playing style. The athleticism, the fundamentals of going left and right with an ability to finish with both hands, the court vision he possessed and the flair in which he passed. These are all traits of modern wings and we often credit guys like Magic, Bird, or even Robertson as the guys who pioneered this style. But, in reality, Baylor predates them all and built his hall of fame career on these skills.

So enjoy the clip above. Baylor may not be the first guy mentioned as one of the all-timers, but he really should be.

A particular moment from last year’s annual Lakers preseason hype sticks out like a sore thumb. The excitement in L.A. was tangible; the Lakers, in typical Laker fashion, had just managed to inject life into the twilight of Kobe’s dwindling career by pulling off one of the best summers in NBA free agency history. Kobe finally had a quality point guard in Nash, and concerns over Dwight’s achy back evaporated with each youtube search of his pre-surgery dominance. Mitch had set up the franchise for the next decade, and LA was going to challenge for the title the very next year before slowly handing over Kobe’s reins to D12.  This prompted the moment: one particularly caught-up fan tweeted the FB&G twitter account to ask, I assume seriously, if it was unreasonable to expect the Lakers to go 82-0 and a perfect 16-0 in the playoffs on the way to the franchise’s 17th championship.

This year, no one is tweeting FB&G to ask if the Lakers are going to go undefeated.

The vibe in Lakerland couldn’t be any further from what it was last season. Or the season before. Or the season before that. It’s a vibe I’m unfamiliar with, really. Consider that I was born on December 18,1994- my very first memories of watching basketball involve alley-oops from Kobe Bryant to Shaquille O’Neal. I spent the prime of my fanhood (2008-2010, ages 14-16. You’re old enough to fully understand the game and the league, yet you’re young enough to where you don’t really have any responsibilities to keep you from watching every second of every game. Rivaled only by ages 60-65, when I’ll hopefully be retired and finally equipped with the funds I’ll need to buy season seats for the 2055-56 season, yet still sane enough to comprehend what’s going on. At 3% inflation, season tickets will cost $144,000 for four seats that year but hey, a man can dream…) enjoying the dominant resurgence brought on by that fateful February, 2008 day when Mitch turned Kwame Brown and a lukewarm pile of poop into everyone’s favorite Spaniard. And while I wasn’t forecasting a perfect season like some of my more dramatic counterparts, at this time last year I was fully expecting the Lakers to compete for a title. If you’d have told me last year that at this time next year the Lakers would be Dwightless and picked by ESPN to finish 12th in the conference, well…I simply wouldn’t have believed you.

When you get into the numbers, the first word that come to mind to describe the Lakers’ success during my fandom is silly. Since the 1999-2000 season (Age 5) until today and leaving out the lockout shortened “season” of 2011-2012, the Lakers have gone 689-377 for a .646 winning percentage, making an average year 53-29. I’ve seen seven finals appearances and witnessed five parades down Figueroa. I’ve seen two MVPs and exactly one missed playoff season. Tough to fathom so much data taken over so long? For perspective, let’s compare this 13-year stretch to that of the Chicago Bulls, a team that has experienced a normal ebb-and-flow, boom-then-bust recent history in their post-Michael years.

Since 1999-2000 and not including 2011-2012, the Bulls are a combined 465-601 for a .436 win pct. They missed the playoffs seven times in that span. You hear the name Bulls and are immediately reminded of D-Rose’s seemingly bi-gamely hammer dunks or MJ hitting a game winner. But what you conveniently forget  are the dog years in-between the glory days, the lottery-bound seasons where win totals are lucky to surpass the teens. That is, unless you are a Bulls fan who had to actually suffer through these long, painful years. Apart from the Spurs and Lakers, every team, including the perennial powers, have chugged through down years- the Celtics went 24-58 in 06-07.Your two-time defending NBA Champions Miami Heat? 6 short years ago, they were the worst team in the NBA at 15-67. The now competitive L.A. Clippers enjoyed their best season in franchise history this year. Problem is, that season ended the same round as the Lakers’ season did, and this was the worst season in recent memory for the purple and gold. I assure you I can go on, but I think the message is clear: it’s nearly impossible to be good every single year.

Look, I’m not saying that I’m expecting the Lakers to be a player in the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes. I’m not even saying that the Lakers will have a losing season or make the playoffs. But something is distinctly different this year. If we’re being honest with ourselves, a best case scenario for the 2013-14 Lakers is squeaking into the playoffs. The West is absolutely stacked 1-7, the T’wolves improved immensely, and Kobe’s Achilles tendon is a gigantic question mark. A Championship simply isn’t in the cards this season.

So, how’s someone like me, who’s seen the Lakers at the peak of the power and little else, supposed to get themselves excited for this season? Why, it’s easy. It’s just different.

Life is about finding beauty in things. The more things you find beauty in, the better life will be. I’ve spent a good amount of time this summer preparing myself for the things in which I’ll need to find beauty to make this upcoming season a great one. In place of 10 game winning streaks, we’ll have Wesley Johnson enjoying the change of scenery he’s so desperately needed and finally cashing in on that lottery-pick potential. In lieu of locking up home-court advantage, we’ll enjoy stealing a road game after catching fire and shooting 55% from three for an entire game. And instead of rooting Kobe on in the MVP race, we’ll appreciate the homecoming of Jordan Farmar.

Last year’s team became the biggest story in the NBA when they simply couldn’t win games early on. All eyes were on LA at all times and every word and action was viewed through a microscope. This year, a younger team with fresher faces will revel in anonymity. Trust me, it’s going to be nice to not have to explain  to non-Laker fan friends why a team with Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, and Pau Gasol just could not string together anything resembling a win streak.  This year, I’m excited to watch my favorite basketball player cement his legacy by coming back from an absolutely devastating injury and playing at an elite level. I’m excited to watch an embattled coach prove that he’s not a dufus and that system offenses still have a place in this league. Long story short, I’m excited for Laker basketball. It’s just not the Laker basketball I’m used to, but that’s fine with me.

The Lakers really could have tanked this year; it would have been easy and financially advantageous to amnesty Kobe in an attempt to clear as much cap space as possible for next summer’s lucrative free agent class. But that’s not the Laker way. There’s simply too much pride to put a poor product on the floor, so Mitch has assembled a cast of essentially rentals that will probably hover around .500 for the entire year. And when those rentals expire, the Lakers will be in position (they’ll have tons of cap space) to make a giant splash in free agency and, barring a repeat of this past year’s snafu, put themselves right back atop the West for years to come. It reminds me a great deal of the 1995-96 season, the year before Jerry West was able to convince the best center in the NBA that LA was the place for Shaq. That squad, led by Nick Van Exel, Cedric Ceballos, Elden Campbell, and Vlade Divac, was in a ‘transitional’ phase just like this year’s team. They finished-you guessed it-53-29. The very next year, Shaq comes to LA and West decides to take a chance on a scrawny 17-year old from Philly. The point here is that the Lakers simply don’t accept anything except excellence. That’ll save LAL from ever having to go through a full reconstruction of the team where top lottery picks are key to the process (see: Thunder, Oklahoma City.)

Very few things are certain in professional sports, but I can assure you one thing. When you’ve made a commitment to excellence and delivered on it for decades, down periods don’t last long. The feeling before next season won’t be like the one before this one. Not one bit.