Acting up: Lakers' 2 stars not up to sharing lead role

ON THE NBA

January 14, 2001|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

Oscar nominations will be announced soon, the second "Survivor" starts in a couple of weeks and Madonna just got married, but all Hollywood can talk about is a little soap opera called "All My Lakers."

"AML," as its devoted fans call it, is the continuing story of a Zen master named Phil, and his struggle to keep his warring sons, "Shaq the Elder," and "Kobe the Kid," from tearing the Laker clan apart.

This family feud, put aside last year in the interest of a championship, has bubbled over and gotten so big that the estimable Los Angeles Times, a corporate big brother to this newspaper, ran a review of the latest squabble on the front page one day last week.

Here's the plot-to-date: "Shaq the Elder," played by center Shaquille O'Neal, has noticed that he hasn't been getting as many offensive touches this season as he did last season. And the result, in his mind, is a lot more losses, nearly as many through this weekend as the team racked up all last year.

"I've never been one to get into whose team it is," O'Neal, 28, said last week. "But, clearly, when everything went through me, the outcome was [a record of] 67-15, playing with enthusiasm, the city was jumping up and down, we had a parade. Now we're [24-11 through Friday]. So you figure it out."

According to "Kobe the Kid," portrayed by guard Kobe Bryant, 22, the fact that he is not only averaging four more points a game than "Shaq the Elder," but taking four more shots a game is not the issue.

Instead, the big problem is that while the Lakers are leading the NBA in scoring, they're giving up five more points a game than last year, ranking them 23rd. Guess whose fault "Kobe the Kid" thinks that is?

"All we ask from Shaq is to be the dominant presence that he is and play solid defense," said Bryant. "That's it. Scoring shouldn't affect his defense."

Perhaps, but in the mixed metaphor of the year, O'Neal referred to himself in the canine, offering to ESPN The Magazine, "I have to be fed the ball. When the dog is fed, he'll guard the yard. When he's not, anybody can come in."

Each of the feuding kids reportedly asked to be traded to other teams, though no one should take the requests seriously, least of all new Laker GM Mitch Kupchak, who has wisely dismissed the notion of dealing either player.

Perhaps the most famous Laker of all, Magic Johnson, a team vice-president made a cameo appearance this week from the set of his defunct talk show, to quell the kids separately, telling them, "It's about going out there, playing together and winning. I think the message was received."

With the possibility of surrendering the all-important home court advantage in the Western Conference playoffs, particularly with their chief Western Conference nemesis, the Portland Trail Blazers on a terrific roll, "Zen Master Phil," otherwise known as coach Phil Jackson has gone from bemused at his fussy brats to a touch annoyed.

"I haven't had any thought of bringing them together," said Jackson. "I don't even want them in the same room together right now."

Jackson, who recognizes that he'll need both kids happy if the Lakers have any chance to defend their title, will likely come up with some kind of compromise, something on the order of more shots for O'Neal early in the game, when his atrocious free throw shooting doesn't hurt so much, and more offense for Bryant late.

Either that, or bring in Susan Lucci.

The college try

While departed Boston Celtics coach Rick Pitino's personnel moves didn't help him, the lasting legacy from his leaving might be that it will be a while before NBA owners and general managers take chances on college coaches.

No less notables than Pitino, who had success with the New York Knicks, sandwiched around stints at Providence and Kentucky, P.J. Carlesimo and Jerry Tarkanian have come to find in recent years that the basics of the game are the same, the day-to-day operations aren't.

"If a college coach is not able to adjust to the differences between coaching college players and pro players, he's definitely going to be in a difficult situation," said Golden State forward Antawn Jamison.

Said Jamison, who left North Carolina after his junior year:

"In college, you have young guys who are listening and eager to learn and things like that, but, in the pros, you have some guys who you can't tell them anything. They're always right and `You can't talk to me that way. I'm a grown man.' and things like that."

Quick quiz

If his rebounding pace holds, Utah's Karl Malone will, by month's end, become one of six players all-time to score 26,000 points and pull down 13,000 rebounds. Name the other five. (Hint: Four are retired)

Tough choices

Heaven help whichever coach ends up at the helm of the Western Conference All-Star team, as he'll have some difficult decisions to make about whom to bring to Washington for the game and who to leave home.

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