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Lakers Waiting for New Coach : Wednesday's game: While rallying to defeat Mavericks, 112-109, they wonder what it will be like to play for Magic.

March 25, 1994|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DALLAS — The Lakers, caught in the awkward limbo of the post-Pfund, pre-Magic era, will find out Sunday what it is like to play for Coach Earvin (Magic) Johnson.

Those who don't already know.

"I was playing for him when I was playing with him," Kurt Rambis said. "When he was out on the floor, he was choreographing and orchestrating the offense. He made up plays coming down the floor. He kind of winged it. That's the way he's been since he was a kid. You'd see him waving his arm, getting players to do this and that. He'll have to learn how to do that from the bench, yelling out.

"But it's not going to be easy, that's for sure. . . . He's going to have to take his lumps. He'll make some bad decisions and he'll make some good decisions, and he'll learn from it."

The Lakers--who needed a furious rally to defeat the lowly Dallas Mavericks, 112-109, Wednesday at Reunion Arena after trailing by 10 points with five minutes to play--met the news that Johnson is replacing Randy Pfund with the typical mix of sympathy for a fired coach they liked and enthusiasm for a friend who reminds them of their glory years.

"I am looking forward to Magic," said Vlade Divac, a player who developed under the driving tutelage of Johnson before Johnson retired after contracting HIV. "He knows a lot about basketball and has a winning attitude and that is what we need. . . . It's mixed, though. I still believe Randy's a good coach. Management made a decision. That's business. We'll move on. . . . I'm looking forward to working with (Johnson) again. Whatever it takes to be the best player, I'll do it, it doesn't matter what."

Not all the Lakers know Magic so well, especially the team's young core.

"It's going to exciting, just for the fact that growing up I was a big Magic Johnson fan and I patterned a lot of what I do after watching him play," Doug Christie said. "In some sense, there are a lot of unknowns. We don't know what to expect. As a player, he did things a certain way. I'm sure as a coach he will, too."

Pfund got some support from the players, but it was more empathy than indignation.

"I think everybody had two emotions," Rambis said. "One, you were sad for Randy and felt bad for him and his situation. And you were happy for Earvin and the prospects he might bring to the club. The same things he brought as a player, a great work ethic, enthusiasm for the game, an understanding of the game, a knowledge of the game. He'll try to relay that to the players."

James Worthy, a 12-year veteran, has seen coaches come and go.

"I thought Randy did a great job, but I don't think time was on his side," Worthy said. "I think the expectation level was so high. There was a lot of teaching that needed to be done. There were a lot of new players in the last year. It was just overwhelming for him."

Now Worthy will answer to a teammate he won NBA titles with.

"It'll be strange at first, but that will be over in about 30 seconds," Worthy said.

"It's tough to say how a new coach is going to do especially when it's new for him. It's really hard to speculate. I know his attitude, I know he's a winner.

"I think anytime there's positive change, everybody's excited. The fans will be extremely excited. It will give them an opportunity to reminisce and hope."

Bill Bertka, longtime Laker assistant, coach, has been through coaching transition after transition. He's handling the team during the two-game interim before Johnson takes over, and he'll be there to help him adjust to life on the bench, something Johnson never knew much about.

"Magic is a person who has tremendous qualifications to come in and do the job," Bertka said. "He's a very strong personality, and he's actually been coaching the game all his life, because that's the way he plays basketball. I think he'll be a very positive influence on the team."

Question is, of course, how long can Johnson be content to stay on the bench?

"It will probably take about 30 seconds," Rambis said, laughing. "That's up to him. I've played in these games with him over in Europe, so I know he can still play. That's always a possibility.

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