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When the Lakers drafted little-known guard Frankie King from
Western Carolina last June, Los Angeles coach Del Harris had not
seen so much as a videotape of him. But Harris had no problem
with the pick because it was masterminded by Laker executive
vice president of basketball operations Jerry West. "Jerry is
very excited about the pick, and that's a good sign," Harris
said. "I don't know Frankie King, but I know Jerry West. So
that's good enough."

When it comes to judging talent, West deserves the benefit of
the doubt. He has rebuilt the Lakers into a championship
contender remarkably quickly with a series of shrewd strokes.
West has made smart moves in the draft, including plucking point
guard Nick Van Exel (page 46) in the second round two years ago.
He has made the right trades, such as the deal that brought
small forward Cedric Ceballos from the Suns for a first-round
draft choice. Ceballos went from being a sometime starter with
Phoenix to being the Lakers' leading scorer and an All-Star.

And in the bold hiring of Harris last season, West chose the
right man to lead the collection of talent he has assembled.
Critics of the move said that Harris, then 57, was too old and
conservative to deal with the young, headstrong Laker players.
He merely led them to a 48-34 record, 15 games better than the
year before, and won the coach of the year award. "It's hard to
say who the star of this team is," Harris says. "You could make
the case that right now our star is Jerry West."

West would like nothing better than to see one of the Lakers'
young players take that label from him, and there are several
candidates. Among them is Van Exel, who followed an erratic
rookie season in 1993-94 with a dynamic second year capped by a
sensational playoff performance. Van Exel's shot selection
improved dramatically, although he's still liable to pull up
unexpectedly and launch a long-range bomb. He led the Lakers to
a first-round upset of the SuperSonics, then helped L.A. throw a
scare into the Spurs in the second round. He may not have
brought Showtime back to the Great Western Forum, but Van Exel
has helped create a new electricity among Laker fans with his
brash, confident manner. The Lakers are fast becoming his team.
"We don't fear anyone, and that attitude starts with him," says
swingman Eddie Jones.

Jones could miss as much as the first month of the season after
tearing a ligament in his left thumb in early October. Once he's
back he'll again split time with Anthony Peeler at shooting
guard. Peeler can be an explosive scorer, while the long-armed
Jones is a defensive stopper. Jones can also slide over to small
forward, where because of his defensive ability Harris often
uses him late in games instead of Ceballos, a natural scorer who
is just beginning to realize that defense is a part of the game.

The Lakers went into the off-season looking for a power forward,
an indication that they aren't satisfied with the inconsistent
Elden Campbell. The sleepy-eyed Campbell is one of those players
who looks effortless when he's playing well and lazy when he
isn't. He was brilliant at times in the playoffs, but he also
went the month of January without a single double-digit
rebounding game. Free agent Anthony Mason re-signed with the
Knicks, the Lakers weren't willing to take a chance on Dennis
Rodman, and Magic Johnson decided against coming out of
retirement to grab a few rebounds, so L.A. will have to hope the
6'11" Campbell finally decides to display his talent on a
nightly basis.

But then, the Lakers were patient with Vlade Divac, and it has
paid off. Divac, 27, was considered soft and inconsistent early
in his career, but he has turned in consecutive seasons of
double-digit scoring and rebounding while developing more of an
edge to his game. Even though he's still more comfortable on the
perimeter, Divac was seventh in the league in blocks (2.18) and
held his own against the top centers.

The Lakers should be even better this year if only because
players like Van Exel, Jones and Peeler are still improving,
which means that the franchise, which two years ago looked as
though it might become a long-term member of the lottery, is
ready to make a serious run at a division title, and perhaps a
lot more. When the Lakers were in the midst of their 33-49
season in 1993-94, West insisted that they could rebuild in a
hurry. "I don't believe in five-year plans," he said then. "If
we make the right moves, we could be back in the hunt quickly."
It sounded unlikely at the time, but like Del Harris, we should
have given West the benefit of the doubt.


COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON Ceballos, another gem acquired by West, needs to add D to his repertoire. [Cedric Ceballos]



PPG (Rank) FG% (Rank)

OFFENSE 105.1 (7) .463 (16)
DEFENSE 105.3 (21) .468 (17)


Maybe Del Harris should have said thanks, but no thanks when he
was named NBA Coach of the Year last May. Certainly Harris was
worthy of the honor. He had orchestrated a 15-game
regular-season improvement for a team coming off its first
nonplayoff season in 18 years. Three days after the
announcement, Harris's Lakers opened their conference semifinal
series against San Antonio. Little did Harris know that his mere
acceptance of the award would set 23 years of history conspiring
against him. Since the inception of the award in 1963, only four
men have been named coach of the year in a season in which they
reached the NBA Finals. Among those four is Red Auerbach--the
coach of the year trophy now bears his name. (Harris's Lakers,
it should be noted, went on to lose their series to the Spurs

Coach of the Year Result in NBA Finals

1963-64 Alex Hannum, Warriors Lost to Celtics 4-1
1964-65 Red Auerbach, Celtics Defeated Lakers 4-1
1969-70 Red Holzman, Knicks Defeated Lakers 4-3
1971-72 Bill Sharman, Lakers Defeated Knicks 4-1


Guard Anthony Peeler could break into the starting lineup this
year, not because he's a better player than Eddie Jones, but
because Jones, who will get a late start this season due to
injury, is more suited to coming off the bench than Peeler. In
49 games as a reserve, Peeler averaged seven points per game,
but in the 24 games he started after Jones suffered a sprained
right shoulder, Peeler averaged 17.3 points. Coach Del Harris
may take the hint and put Peeler into the starting lineup, in
which case he would probably improve on his 10.4 scoring average
of last season. Shot selection has been a problem for Peeler
throughout his three-year NBA career, but he made significant
improvement in that area toward the end of last season. Expect
him to make the Lakers' three-guard rotation an even more potent
force in '95-96.



SF Cedric Ceballos 21.7 ppg 8.0 rpg 50.9 FG%
PF Elden Campbell 12.5 ppg 6.1 rpg 1.81 bpg
C Vlade Divac 16.0 ppg 10.4 rpg 4.1 apg
PG Nick Van Exel 16.9 ppg 8.3 apg 1.21 spg
SG Anthony Peeler 10.4 ppg 0.71 spg 38.9 3FG%


G-F Eddie Jones* 14.0 ppg 3.9 rpg 2.05 spg
G Sedale Threatt 9.5 ppg 4.2 apg 0.92 spg
F George Lynch 6.1 ppg 3.3 rpg 0.91 spg

*Will begin season on injured list