HONOLULU — It was some summer for Laker Coach Del Harris. He got a tattoo on his upper arm, of a basketball going through a net. He got a new center, a young guy named Shaquille O'Neal who's supposed to have potential. He got a contract extension.
Now he's got the world watching him.
But he's resisting that. When training camp opens today at the University of Hawaii, part of the new look for the Lakers, a team with only five returnees, will be the no-look. Large portions of practices will be closed to the outside world in an attempt to keep distractions to a minimum, at least ones that don't involve cleaning up glass after a certain center with a history of bringing down baskets tears down a rim.
Even the limited viewing, however, might still make the Lakers more accessible than most other teams, for whom closing every practice is commonplace. But it's also a noteworthy change for Harris and the open-door policy of his first two seasons, when the only secret workouts were during the playoffs. Otherwise, all comers were welcome, even students and tour groups passing through Gersten Pavilion at Loyola Marymount.
That was BS, of course. Before Shaq.
Now, new superstar, new pressures, new plan.
It was done in anticipation of a media crush, relatively speaking, being here to witness the start of a new era for a franchise that has to live up to its own past as much as the Chicago Bulls and Seattle SuperSonics of 1996-97.
Harris has thrown out the ceremonial first expectations--"If we do it right, this should be the next great Laker team," he said--so six Southern California newspapers have representatives here, twice as many as last year and about equal to playoff coverage. Four or five Los Angeles TV stations are expected too, also about double the '95 turnout. Maybe even Rolling Stone, but for a piece on rookie Kobe Bryant, not O'Neal.
"I think it'll turn out that one of the best things we got from Earvin [Johnson] joining the team last year was that it gave our guys an opportunity to travel around with the intense media scrutiny, even during the regular season," Harris said. "I think that we would have been unprepared for all this attention otherwise.
"When you're traveling with somebody that has the drawing power with the media and fans like Magic or Shaq, it's virtually like it must have been to have been traveling with Elvis. You're not ready for that ordinarily. I think we got tempered into it. I think that'll be the biggest blessing we had from [Johnson's return]. I think all things happen for a reason. Well, that may be one reason we went through that."
Shaq has entered the building. And with him are:
Six came to camp and six may stick, even if that's one more than most teams like to carry. The flexibility is provided by Eddie Jones, a proven small forward, and Bryant, who is also projected to play there some. Derek Fisher replaces Frankie King as the rookie guard, though he is far more suited to play the point behind Nick Van Exel, and Rumeal Robinson replaces Sedale Threatt as the veteran capable of playing both backcourt spots.
Byron Scott will be a welcome addition if he brings a consistent three-point shot, and refrains from starting sentences with, "When I was here in the '80s. . . . "
Cedric Ceballos and Elden Campbell are the starters and Jerome Kersey is one reserve. The few roster decisions Harris must make will be here. Corie Blount has a good chance, but is no lock. Trevor Wilson is a longshot. Juaquin Hawkins, the defensive standout from Cal State Long Beach, and David Booth are no shots.
With O'Neal and Sean Rooks aboard, the problem is what to do with 7-foot rookie Travis Knight, a first-round pick by the Bulls who was waived for salary-cap purposes. Do the Lakers give him nagging back spasms just before the start of the regular season, then carry him on the injured list? Do they cut Blount to keep him? Do they hope that nobody notices there is more than one center on the team and keep them all?