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THE INSIDE TRACK | T.J. SIMERS

Cue Rider, Lakers Badly Need Him for This Scene

February 13, 2001|T.J. SIMERS

To save the Lakers, I believe it's time for J.R. Rider to step forward and do what he does best. Get in trouble.

Missing a game this week would be a tremendous help, or showing up late and then going into an endless pout meriting a serious fine could be a season-saver.

I'm not asking for anything unusual--he just needs to be himself.

But whatever he does, it should be provocative, controversial or disruptive enough to shift the spotlight from Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal to himself.

It would help if he also attacks the media, and instead of just threatening one reporter and telling him he knows where he lives as he did earlier this season, I would urge him to go after everyone. A locker-room tirade would work.

That would create a firestorm, of course, prompting at least two weeks of talk-radio, TV and newspaper analysis about how the Lakers shouldn't have signed the guy in the first place, and lots more talk about Glen Rice and Jerry West. If he does something really bad in front of a camera, it could even become a national story.

Bryant and O'Neal would be left to play basketball--Bryant shooting and O'Neal rebounding the shots Bryant misses.

We're at the crossroads here--if the media have nothing else to do but go to Bryant and tell him what O'Neal said, and then go to O'Neal and tell him about the faces Bryant makes, the Lakers will continue to trip over themselves.

As long as opponents think the Lakers' two best players are babies and not getting along, they're going to think they have a chance to succeed. There's no fixing the problem, so the solution is to divert everyone's attention to another concern, which makes Rider a natural to save the day.

Let's face it, the guy has been a drain on the Lakers all season long, his mood swings as wild as some of his shots. Based on talent and career statistics, he might be the logical choice to fill the vital role as third scorer on this team, but he's just as likely to sleep in and miss the seventh game of the NBA finals.

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I HAVE TO believe Coach Phil Jackson has come to the same conclusion. Now he's doing what he does best, playing the psychological game, purposely annoying Rider by not making him a starter, irritating him further with his confusing substitution pattern, and then angering him by not playing him in tight games. The guy should be ready to blow.

Jackson used this same formula with rousing success a year ago in driving Rice and Rice's wife to flip out down the stretch, thereby taking the media glare off everyone else. He had Dennis Rodman in Chicago to use when necessary.

Frankly, I think things are so critical with Bryant and O'Neal and media surveillance of their relationship that it's time to tell Rider he must be at the next game no later than 7 p.m., while telling everyone else, including the media, to be there by 5.

And when Rider shows up late--suspend him. It's the only way to save the season.

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I CHECKED, BECAUSE the assumption was logical, but they were using batting practice pitchers in the Las Vegas home run contest won by Rafael Palmeiro and not the Angels' pitching staff.

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I'M NOT GOING to mention Ray Lewis, but now that we have had Allen Iverson emerge as most valuable player of a basketball game this year, I expect we can look forward to John Rocker and one of those Dallas Stars arrested for buying a lap dance in Tampa, Fla., as top picks in baseball and hockey.

If Mark Chmura joined that professional wrestling football league, he'd certainly be its best player.

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HOW LONG DO you think it will be before you get over the U.S. loss to Switzerland in the Davis Cup?

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THE VOICE OF the Kings, Bob Miller, a broadcasting giant in his own right, with the ability to stay awake night after night, hockey game after hockey game, received the Southern California Broadcasters Assn.'s award Monday for being the top TV play-by-play announcer.

A gracious Miller accepted the award with a nod of respect to Vin Scully.

"I want to thank Vin for being ineligible this year," Miller said. "Every four years someone else gets to win it."

Scully had won the award the previous three years and under the association's rules, he's required to skip a year before winning it next year again.

Joe Calla, among others singled out for their broadcast work in the past year, said he decided years ago to leave behind a small market and come to Los Angeles, figuring Chick Hearn and Scully couldn't go on forever.

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THE STAMINA OF Tom Lasorda is unbelievable. He was on a 7 a.m. flight out of Miami Monday after giving a speech the night before, arrived in L.A. to receive a award at the SCBA luncheon, went home to get his tuxedo, caught a plane to Las Vegas and was in the audience for the ESPY Awards Monday night.

After the show Lasorda ran into Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter, and he wasn't too tired to ask him for a couple hundred bucks now that Jeter has signed a $189-million deal. Jeter thought he was kidding--obviously he doesn't know Lasorda.

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WISCONSIN RUNNING BACK Michael Bennett was arrested for trying to break down the door of a young woman's apartment. Obviously, he's getting himself ready to play in the NFL.

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TODAY'S LAST WORD comes in an e-mail from Vitaly:

"I've never read such a useless and unintelligent column until I read yours. I'm a soccer fan . . . "

You have far bigger problems than me.

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T.J. Simers can be reached at his e-mail address:t.j.simers@latimes.com

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