General Manager Jerry West, on the mid-winter state of the Lakers:
--"We've got the best record in the league, but that doesn't seem to satisfy anyone, for some reason."
--"I don't think anyone knows where this team stands at this time."
--"This team, when everyone plays to their capabilities, is awesome. When they don't, it's vulnerable."
Contradictory? Not really. It's just West's way of saying that the question is better posed in June. Then, everyone within earshot of Chick Hearn's microphone wouldknow whether the Lakers are playing for another NBA championship, or whether, indeed, their dominance in the West ended last spring, when they were eliminated from the playoffs by the Houston Rockets.
In one respect, West can't wait that long. The league's trading deadline is Sunday at 9 p.m., PST, and if West plans to add another rebounding big man to the roster, he's got three days to get it done. For West, there are days when making 45-foot, game-winning shots at the buzzer come easier than making deals.
West knows who he wants--Mychal Thompson, the 6-foot 10-inch center-forward from San Antonio who could back up Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and allow Kurt Rambis to resume life as a power forward instead of an overmatched second-string center.
Thompson, who spent his first seven seasons in Portland before being traded to the Spurs last June, isn't a classic banger--he has never averaged double figures in rebounds, for example. But he would fit right into the Laker running game, has a nice shooting touch, and would come in handy against teams the Lakers don't match up real well against--Houston with its Twin Towers, for example, or the Boston Celtics, with Robert Parish and Kevin McHale.
It's quite possible Thompson already would be a Laker if the lowly Spurs hadn't suddenly caught fire and won seven in a row. They've lost their first two games since the All-Star break, so perhaps they're more in the mood to barter again.
One thing you won't see, however: A Thompson (Mychal) for Thompson (Billy) swap. West has made it clear that he's willing to give his top draft choice in 1987 to the Spurs, but don't expect him to part with his top pick in '86. Billy Thompson hasn't played much--he's averaging a shade under 13 minutes a game--but he's shown enough to win over West.
"If he were playing in any other situation where he got playing time, I don't think there's any question he'd be on the All-Rookie team," West said. "He's the best rebounding small forward in the game for minutes played, and his numbers, when compared to other people and when you project them (over a full game), they're scary."
Try these for size, if he were playing 48 minutes: 23 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists.
"He blocks shots, he rebounds, he can pass the heck out of the ball, and he's played in winning programs (University of Louisville)," West said.
But he is also a rookie, which on the Lakers means his day doesn't figure to come this season. Eventually it will, though, if West has his way. At least half a dozen NBA teams have inquired about Thompson, and they're all getting the same answer.
To induce the Spurs, then, to make a deal, West may have to explore different avenues. There have been reports that the Lakers may try to package 7-2 center Petur Gudmundsson, who underwent back surgery in November and hasn't played all season, with draft choices. Also, a three-way deal reportedly could be involved.
Do the Lakers need, absolutely need, another big man to win the title? Interestingly, the same question is being asked in Boston, where the Celtics are trying to make do without Bill Walton.
"I would take our top eight players against any top eight in the league," West said.
On the up side:
--Magic Johnson is having an MVP season while assuming the burden of the Lakers' scoring.
--Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who added some bulk, is an All-Star at age 39.
--James Worthy is good for 20 seemingly effortless points a night.
--A.C. Green has blossomed as a starter in his second season.
--Byron Scott is having what Coach Pat Riley has described as his best season.
"There's a real maturity there," West said. "Byron never makes a turnover."
--Riley is on track for his third straight season of 60-plus wins.
"There's no better coach for this team anywhere," West said. "He took the approach that we're going to try and get it done with what we have."
--Michael Cooper has been Michael Cooper, the best sixth man in the league and a probable All-Star anywhere else.
On the down side:
--Abdul-Jabbar will turn 40 the week the playoffs begin.
"I really have to laugh when I hear about 'the aging center of the Lakers,' " West said. "Every center he's required to play against, he does more than hold his own."
--Worthy has been hampered by tendinitis in his knees, much more than he lets on.
"James has had a year that's up and down in some respects," West said. "He has a physical edge on almost everybody he plays against, but when that is diminished, you're going to see some inconsistent nights."