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Lazers to Have Best Money Can Buy : Buss Says He'll Build His Team With Top Soccer Players

April 05, 1986|PETE THOMAS | Times Staff Writer

It's time, according to millionaire Jerry Buss, to make some substantial changes in one of his properties.

The changes have nothing to do with the Lakers or Kings. Buss is going to restructure, financially and physically, the Lazers, whose season concludes tonight at Tacoma, Wash.

The Lazers play indoor soccer, although not very well, and before crowds that are not very big. The team, last in goals scored and allowed, is the Major Indoor Soccer League's ranking patsy.

Buss intends to change that, and says he won't hesitate to do some house-cleaning. "Only 10 or 12 players will be returning next year," he said. The Lazers currently employ 20 players, the league limit.

The Lazers, who lost to the San Diego Sockers, 6-5, Friday night at the Forum, have the league's worst record, 13-34. Although the crowd Friday night was 6,602, the Lazers season average was well under 5,000 a game.

Buss wants to act quickly, since Los Angeles is the host city for next year's All-Star game, and he is fearful of empty seats and inadequate representation from his team.

"I want to go right ahead with the situation," he said.

That means putting big name, high-scoring players into the lineup before the start of next season, which should improve the Lazers' chances of achieving respectability.

"We've decided to go after the talent (in the league), and I want to showcase that talent in the All-Star game," Buss said.

With better players, Buss also hopes to increase attendance.

"We've had increases in the crowd before (this year), but that compares with where you are in the standings," he said. "Had we played well this year, we would have been up dramatically."

But the team didn't play well, and the books show it. Over the last few seasons the Lazers have lost about $500,000 a year.

Over the last few seasons, indoor soccer, a less demanding but higher-scoring version of the outdoor game, has grown in popularity around the country.

Cleveland averages 12,472 fans a game, and Kansas City, eliminated from playoff contention this season, is second at 12,296. Elsewhere on the West Coast, San Diego is fifth in the league with an average of just under 10,000. The league average is 8,613.

The Lazers have by far the lowest team budget in the league--$729,375, excluding incentive bonuses--Buss said, adding that that is the primary reason for their sorry performance.

Pittsburgh has the league's highest payroll at $1.4 million, followed by Baltimore at $1.3 million, and Cleveland and San Diego at $1.2 million. Dallas is second lowest at $853,386.

Buss intends to increase the Lazers' budget by about $600,000, putting them at or near the top, financially.

"Our plan is basically to increase the payroll so we can get some of the top players around the league," he said.

He believes that the team will be able to compete with the rest of the league with a star or two, maybe more. "Right now, I'm looking at what it will cost to get five or six good players," he said.

"After taking a good, long look, over the last three years, I feel if we had a good team we could win games and draw like they do in other cities across the country."

Meanwhile, Lazer Coach Peter Wall, who Buss insists will still have a job next season, blames the team's performance on its lack of depth and low budget.

"Anytime a player became available, we couldn't even consider him," Wall said. "This will give us the opportunity to go out and sign top-quality players.

"Right now, we're looking at who will be free agents in the near future, and who are the top-quality players, and we'll try to purchase or lure them over," Wall said.

In addition to the overseas market, there is a long list of MISL players who will become free agents before next season.

A few possible candidates:

--Craig Allen of Cleveland, the league's fourth-leading scorer.

--Karl-Heinz Granitza of Chicago, eighth in the league.

--Dale Mitchell of Kansas City, 11th.

If the budget increase does what it is supposed to, Wall will have the job security he desires.

And whatever the future has in store for indoor soccer, Buss wants to see that the Lazers have a shot.

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