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After Rockets, Lakers Talking About a Face Lift : Player Changes Can Be Expected--Not Just a Big Body, but a Big, Young Body

May 23, 1986|THOMAS BONK | Times Staff Writer

One day after the end came for the Lakers, they were already talking about a new beginning. Don't expect the same old Lakers next season. Apparently, some changes will be made.

Last year's champions met briefly at the Forum Thursday morning to clear out their lockers and divide their playoff shares. Then they went their separate ways.

Some of them won't be back.

Maybe that's what the Lakers need, James Worthy said.

"I think we've peaked," he said. "We've played the very best we could play. Maybe the way we are now isn't good enough any longer. It's like going to the bank, using your automatic teller card and there's no money in there."

Magic Johnson agrees.

"We need something to wake us up, to make us better," Johnson said. "Of course, you always have to make some moves if what you have don't work.

"I don't want to sound like I'm trying to coach, but we need somebody big, that's all. Sometimes you need some youth. Maybe that's it."

Not just a big body, but a big, young body.

Whatever direction the Lakers take, their first step is Tuesday. That's when General Manager Jerry West meets with Coach Pat Riley and President Bill Sharman.

The first matter they will discuss is the the season that concluded for them Wednesday night when the Houston Rockets eliminated the Lakers from the playoffs, 114-112, in Game 5 of the Western Conference final.

Even though West said that the Lakers still had a very good season despite not making it to the NBA title series, he has questions about the path that the team followed this season.

"We tried to get the job done by using veteran players and bringing them to a good team, but we can't continue to keep borrowing time with people who have played a long time in this league," West said.

Said Riley: "Do we keep the same car and come back and drive it again next season, or do we need an injection of new fuel to make it go?"

So what's in store for the Lakers next fall? Will this be a minor tuneup or a major overhaul? You might be surprised.

West and Riley can be expected to spend the summer shopping for a young and big power forward, which is exactly what they've wanted for two seasons now and is also what they are going to need if they are to prevent the Rockets from dominating the Western Conference.

"Obviously, what the Rockets have must be matched so we can get size and fresh young legs to support Kareem," Riley said. "We've been one step ahead of the posse. Now it's even."

The Lakers do not draft in the first round until the 23rd selection, the same position they've been in for the last two years, so the kind of impact player they seek may not be available at that time.

However, the Lakers believe that the No. 7 and No. 8 teams in the draft, Dallas and Cleveland, are willing to trade their first-round spots. In either of those positions, the Lakers think they can come up with the player they are searching for.

All they have to do is trade somebody, and who that player might be is purely speculative, although Byron Scott's name has drawn some interest.

If the Lakers do make a trade, it would be their first major deal since they traded Norm Nixon to the San Diego Clippers before the 1983-84 season. In that trade, the Lakers sent Nixon, Eddie Jordan and two second-round draft choices to the Clippers in exchange for Swen Nater and the rights to Scott, who is 25.

The Lakers also made an important personnel decision after last season when they let Bob McAdoo go and traded two second-round draft choices to Phoenix for Maurice Lucas.

Although the Lakers clearly missed McAdoo's outside shooting in the playoffs, Lucas led the Lakers in rebounding during the regular season and played consistently well, even though his role was probably the most difficult one he has had in his 12-year professional career.

Lucas, whose moves have always kept him close to the basket, not only had to move outside to play more on the perimeter but also was assigned to defend against Dallas' Mark Aguirre in one series and against Houston's Akeem Olajuwon in the next.

Next season, the 34-year-old Lucas has a $625,000 guaranteed contract. He said he does not know what direction the Lakers are planning to take with personnel.

"That isn't up to me," he said. "That's out of my area."

At the same time, Mitch Kupchak's status for next season is entirely his own decision. Kupchak, 30, has two seasons left on his contract at $1.15 million each season, but he has hinted that he might retire if the Lakers don't want him back.

"My intention is to play again next year unless something happens over the summer," Kupchak said.

Under the NBA's salary-cap rules, should Kupchak choose to call it quits, the Lakers would be free to use half of his salary, $575,000, for another player.

"Mitch is the only one who can evaluate whether he should hang it up," Riley said. "But should he retire or whatever, it would open up the coffers."

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