The Lakers, who have two young power forwards in Billy Thompson and A.C. Green, rid themselves of an older power forward Friday when they put 34-year-old Maurice Lucas on waivers.
Lucas lasted only one season with the Lakers after they had swapped two second-round draft choices to the Phoenix Suns for him. Although not a starter, Lucas led the Lakers with 7.4 rebounds a game and averaged 10.2 points, the lowest mark of his 12-year professional career.
To the Lakers, Lucas had represented the rebounding power forward widely considered to be the last remaining piece of a puzzle that, once completed, would help ensure a second consecutive National Basketball Assn. title. The Lakers could have had Bill Walton, but they chose not to gamble on his health and instead went for Lucas, investing $475,000 to cover his salary.
But Lucas was unable to put the Lakers into the championship final, and they were upset by the Houston Rockets in five games. After that series, the Lakers promised to halt what General Manager Jerry West identified as the graying of the team.
"We tried to get the job done by using veteran players and bringing them to a good team," West said at the time. "But we can't continue to keep borrowing time with people who have played a long time in this league."
Although West did not specifically mention Lucas, it became increasingly clear that the Lakers were not interested in bringing him back for another season, especially at his salary of $625,000. Lucas' contract for the coming season was only conditionally guaranteed, meaning that the Lakers would be liable to pay Lucas if he remained on the roster after a certain date.
"Age has crept in there," West said of Lucas. "And from a skill standpoint, it was declining. It had nothing to do with any other scenario people might be trying to paint."
West hinted that the Lakers are close to making another personnel move, but he would not elaborate.
"This allows us to move in some other directions, so we'll see what happens in the next few days," he said.
West and club President Bill Sharman said Friday that the timing of Lucas' release was based primarily on their belief that he would not be able to make the team this season.
The Lakers also want to give more playing time to Thompson, the rookie forward from Louisville whom they acquired in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks on draft day, and to Green, the one-year veteran who led the summer league in both scoring and rebounding.
With the departure of Lucas, one-fourth of the players who were on the Laker roster at the end of the season are no longer around. Veteran forward Larry Spriggs will be playing in Europe this season, and veteran guard Mike McGee was traded to the Hawks in the deal for Thompson. It seems likely that the name of still another veteran, point guard Ronnie Lester, will be added to that list.