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NBA FINALS | Mark Heisler ON THE NBA

Four-Peat? They Have Some Moves to Make

June 13, 2002|Mark Heisler

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Now to rebuild the perfect beast.

Having won three titles in a row, the Lakers will now try to get better, having seen their comfort margin cut to millimeters by the Sacramento Kings in the Western Conference finals.

With Shaquille O'Neal missing 15 games during the season and struggling early in the playoffs, they would like to add another big man. One they're considering is Charles Oakley, who played last season with the Chicago Bulls but is a free agent and has been talking about coming to the Lakers for years. A tough defender with an attitude and sharp tongue, he'd work well with the Lakers, who were so lackadaisical this season.

Jackson is also looking for a guard to play his "initiator" spot, which Kobe Bryant had to handle much of the season. This would probably be some kind of a young Ron Harper.

Most of the nucleus is expected back but with seven potential free agents, not all of them will be.

Here's how it looks:

* O'Neal (four more seasons under contract at an average of $26.25 million)--Here's how good he was: Weighing at least 345 pounds, with sore feet, he turned back into his dominating self in Games 6 and 7 of the West finals, then won his third Finals MVP in a row. Big questions: Can he find relief for his arthritic right big toe? Will he come back next fall as heavy as he has the last two?

* Bryant (three seasons at an average of $13.5 million)--Just your basic season for the Laker phenom. He made another quantum move, becoming a solid team player and a full-fledged member of the team, which was all that was missing. At 23, he has three titles and is getting better. Now he gets along with Shaq, so the sky's the limit.

* Robert Horry (two seasons at $5.3 million each)--Ultimate specialist, comes alive in the playoffs, as evidenced by his three-point shots to win big games (he beat the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 3 in the first round and saved the Lakers against the Kings with one in Game 4 of the West finals). He still has trouble defending big guys such as Tim Duncan and Chris Webber in the post. If they had someone like Oakley, they could bring Horry off the bench again, where he's most effective.

* Rick Fox (three seasons at an average of $4.7 million)--Solid defender with chip-on-his-shoulder attitude, runs the triangle well and talks trash during the playoffs.

* Lindsey Hunter (two years at an average of $4.1 million, unless he opts out)--They took on his big contract last summer after learning Derek Fisher would need surgery again. Hunter played well early but slumped late, then shot 31% in the playoffs while playing seven minutes a game. They will probably move him if they can find a taker, which is unlikely.

* Fisher (three seasons at $3 million each)--Had a fine season, averaging 11 points and shooting 41% from three-point range. Struggled in the playoffs against San Antonio's Tony Parker and Sacramento's Mike Bibby, but bounced back to average 10 points and shoot 52% in the Finals. Tough, competitive and usually one of the Lakers' best outside shooters.

* Samaki Walker (one season at $1.54 million, unless he opts out)--Good athlete and played OK. If the Lakers bring in another power forward, he might opt out.

* Mark Madsen (one season at $813,000 before becoming a restricted free agent in 2003)--Not a good player but a great effort/attitude guy who fits in well at the end of the bench. Although willing, he's short (6 feet 8) for a power forward and he has to learn to shoot to get more time.

* Devean George (unrestricted free agent)--These playoffs may have cost him $4 million a year as a free agent. Slumped through the postseason but his 11-point, six-rebound performance in Game 4 was more indicative of what he can do. Good defender and an improving outside shooter. Lakers want him back but the question is, will he get any big offers? Probably not.

* Brian Shaw (unrestricted free agent)--Jackson's security blanket. At 36, he makes good decisions and makes big shots, even with minimal opportunities. His willingness to play for the $1-million veteran's minimum takes pressure off the team's salary cap too.

* Slava Medvedenko (restricted free agent)--Their Ukranian secret weapon is 6-11, with decent skills and toughness. Still learning the game as well as the language, but they hope to retain him.

* Mitch Richmond (unrestricted free agent)--He was in the right place but it must have been the wrong time. He's about to turn 37 and they didn't think he picked up the offense fast enough, or was quick enough to defend. May not be back.

* Jelani McCoy (unrestricted free agent)--They're always looking for young big guys they can develop, but he spent most of the season on the injured list and he wasn't injured.

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