Lakers' new coach has long shot at Magic and Shaquille O'Neal, too

May 19, 1992|By Gordon Verrell | Gordon Verrell,Knight-Ridder

LONG BEACH, Calif. -- It wasn't exactly a surprising annnouncement yesterday that Randy Pfund would succeed Mike Dunleavy as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.

After all, Pfund had been a loyal, well-respected assistant under both Pat Riley and Dunleavy for the past seven seasons -- and was popular among the team's players.

And the only other person that Lakers management even considered for the position, Kansas' Roy Williams, let it be known from the start that he wasn't interested.

But two developments could unfold in the Lakers' orbit in the upcoming months that could be quite surprising:

* Shaquille O'Neal could wind up playing for the team.

* Magic Johnson could wind up returning to the team.

Obviously, there is a greater likelihood of Johnson's returning than O'Neal' becoming a member of the Lakers.

The Orlando Magic, which holds the first lottery pick and will select O'Neal, would subject itself to massive media ridicule -- as well as a civic uprising -- if it traded a player as unique as O'Neal to the Lakers.

But the Magic might have no choice and be forced into such a transaction if O'Neal and his agent, Leonard Armato, hold firm in what reliable sources claim they are threatening to do: Reject all NBA contract offers except one from the Lakers.

It's not exactly a secret that O'Neal, who has been living in Los Angeles in a rented apartment, has taken a passionate liking to the city and strongly desires to play for the Lakers.

It's also not exactly a secret that the Magic is at its salary cap ceiling and simply might not have the financial resources to give O'Neal a contract commensurate to his market value.

If O'Neal refused to sign with the Magic and chose to sit out the season, he would would go back into the NBA draft next year -- and the Magic would wind up with nothing.

So, if O'Neal does turn down Orlando, the Magic eventually might find it prudent to deal with a team like the Lakers that knows it could sign O'Neal.

If the Magic followed such a course, they at least probably would wind up with a couple of established players, plus some high draft picks from the Lakers.

The Lakers are under their salary cap and, if they don't re-sign free agent Terry Teagle and do detach a couple of their high-priced players in a blockbuster transaction, they would have the necessary funds for O'Neal.

"It all really depends if O'Neal and his agent remain strong," says a reliable Laker source. "If they do, then there's a chance O'Neal could wind up with the Lakers."

O'Neal, 20, is known to be a strong-willed fellow, but you wonder whether he and his agent are willing to endure the strong national media criticism that would be heaped on them for attempting to bludgeon the Magic into making a trade with the Lakers. They also would be under intense pressure from the NBA office.

It might be recalled that David Robinson also wanted to play for the Lakers, but that he and his agent strayed away from any controversy and quickly signed a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract from the San Antonio Spurs.

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