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MIKE DOWNEY

Don't Put Your Cash in Laker Futures Now

May 11, 1997|MIKE DOWNEY

What does Del Harris do now?

He is running out of time. Monday's game at Utah could mean the end. He has had three seasons. He wanted Magic Johnson back . . . the Lakers said OK. He wanted Shaquille O'Neal . . . the Lakers made it happen. He needed O'Neal's knee to heal by the playoffs . . . it healed.

Yet, it appears the Lakers will not go past the second round of the playoffs, for the sixth consecutive year.

For all I know, Harris still will be coach of this team in 1998, and into the next century. That's OK with me. But his postseason record with this franchise is now 10 wins, 12 defeats. So, are the Lakers going forward, or standing still?

Utah wiped up the Forum floor with them Saturday, 110-95, in the season's biggest game. The team came out flat. This isn't necessarily the coach's fault, but it is his responsibility.

Harris was annoyed last week when P.J. Carlesimo's job security was questioned before Portland's final game. Carlesimo got fired a few days later. If a fifth-place coach can get fired, so can a fourth-place coach. It has been this way for NBA coaches for 50 years.

I definitely see Laker changes ahead. And it might not be the coach. It might be, say, the point guard. Somebody could be spending his last day as a Laker, 24 hours from now. That's unless this team shows something more than it has in this series, and I mean fast.

Harris had no solutions in Game 4. He took out Nick Van Exel, 117 seconds from the opening tip. It could have been a communications problem, as he said. He also took out Elden Campbell, 17 seconds later. Campbell had picked up two quick fouls, which was the only thing Campbell picked up, except possibly his paycheck.

"It obviously wasn't one of Elden's best nights," Harris said, being kind.

Eddie Jones played a meek 27 minutes. Jerome Kersey's stats were negligible. Robert Horry and other teammates got burned by Karl Malone and Bryon Russell for 71 points.

According to the coach, the Lakers lacked intensity "across the board."

Harris didn't know how or where to find it.

He wanted his team to be cool, but not too cool. Lay off referees, but don't be too laid back.

"We didn't have the brashness we sometimes have," the Laker coach said, after a rare technical-free day. "I don't know, maybe this team has to do that, to be successful. Karl Malone and John Stockton complain all the time. If they're not complaining, they're not breathing. Karl complains on every call, doesn't he? It doesn't seem to hurt Utah's game."

He also wanted his team to be excited, though not too excited. Kobe Bryant came in right away, threw wild behind-the-back passes and shot airballs. He seemed excited.

"I suspect that he was," Harris said. "That was one reason I played him 28 minutes. I felt that he was excited. A few guys, I felt, weren't really excited today, for some reason."

The coach ran out of options.

He would have loved to have used his right-hand man, Byron Scott, more than 16 minutes, but Scott's right hand was hurt.

"He couldn't go," Harris said. "He would have gone, but when a guy is wearing a muscle stimulator on his shooting hand, as gallant as he is, he just can't."

And that hurt, because Scott is the only player on this team who is playing better in the playoffs than he did during the season.

That's no knock on O'Neal. At times out there, he seems to be carrying the Lakers on his shoulders. He blocked six shots. He grabbed 11 rebounds. He scored 34 points. The man made 10 free throws, for goodness' sake. And still, the Lakers got pounded. Most of the day, this game wasn't even close.

A Laker team with a front line that stands 7-1, 6-11, 6-10 got manhandled on the boards by a team that goes 7-2, 6-9, 6-7. And the tall guy for Utah is the immortal Greg Ostertag, who in the past two games has rammed home a total of three points.

The Jazz won by not being impatient, by playing at its own pace, by keeping the Lakers on defense as long as possible, each trip down the floor. Utah wasn't eager to let the Lakers have the ball, Coach Jerry Sloan said, because, "We're not a very good defensive team."

It didn't matter. The Lakers weren't energetic, weren't aggressive. Their own coach said so.

They had better find out why, and I don't mean by next year. I mean by Monday night. Because for some Laker, there might not be a next year.

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