Monday, December 21, 2009

Sorry, Trevor Ariza is not the 29th best LA Laker ever

ESPN just launched a Los Angeles-based version of its website,, as the omnipresent network continues its quest for world domination. In the not-too-distant future, there's a decent chance will join the fray, providing 24-hour coverage of JWP athletics and the Hay Daze softball tournament, along with columns analyzing the best bar in town for catching a drunken fistfight.

As part of the launch, writer Dave McMenamin cobbled together a list of the 50 greatest Los Angeles Lakers of all time, making a point to specify that these players are the best in LA Lakers history, meaning the old Minneapolis greats like George Mikan don't qualify. Like all lists, it confuses and sometimes infuriates anyone with knowledge of the subject. And like other Laker rubes, many of the choices left me wondering about the qualifications of the man chosen to compile the list. Here's the story with the list at the bottom.

Top 5:
5. Jerry West. 4. Shaquille O'Neal. 3. Kobe Bryant. 2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. 1. Magic Johnson.

Not much to quibble with there. I might put Kobe ahead of Kareem. Kareem did win five titles with the Lakers, but for the last one in 1988, his contributions were way down, although he did, as always, come through in the clutch with the game-winning free throws in Game 6 of the Finals. Until last year people criticized Kobe for never winning a title without Shaq, but no one ever uses the same argument when talking about Magic or Kareem, though each played with a teammate who might have been the best ever at his respective position. Not to mention another Hall of Famer, James Worthy, filled the lanes alongside them for a decade. And even though Shaq won three titles compared to just one for West, it seems wrong to have a mercenary such as Shaq ahead of a guy who will probably be buried in purple and gold. Shaq's bitter departure from the team counts for something. So bump Mr. Clutch ahead of the Big Whatever He's Calling Himself Now.

Wilt Chamberlain comes in at number 6, ahead of Elgin Baylor at number 7. If we're talking career, sure. But as a Laker? Wilt played five seasons with the Lakers, and in one of those - 1970 - he only played 12 games. Worse, that season ended with Wilt watching helplessly as Willis Reed scored the most important four points in NBA history at the start of Game 7 of the Finals, sparking the Knicks to a rout. Wilt's days of ludicrous numbers were in the past by the time he came to LA; his highest average in a season where he played more than 80 games was 20.7 points per game. Baylor, meanwhile, famously retired just before the Lakers went on their historic 33-game run in 1972. Hne ever did win a title, foiled by the ever-evil Boston Celtics. But before that he played nine seasons in LA, not including the 1971 season that saw him play just twice. He averaged 27 a game as a Laker, along with 13 rebounds. Along with West, Baylor was the face of Lakers in the 1960s, a decade that saw them dominate everyone in the NBA but a certain team from Boston. He's gotta be ahead of Wilt.

Byron Scott comes in at 10, Gail Goodrich at 9 and James Worthy at 8. My old sports editor loved Gail Goodrich. Gail was his favorite player, partly, I think, because they sort of looked like each other, even though Doug's afternoon game at the Y most certainly did not resemble Goodrich's. Those three seem well-ranked.

At number 11 we run into more problems. Derek Fisher. Everyone loves Fisher, the scrappy, flopping guard who has knocked down numerous clutch shots for LA, most memorably the tying 3 in the 2009 Finals and the .4 shot against the Spurs. But I don't see how he can be ranked above Michael Cooper and Jamaal Wilkes, who come in at 12 and 13, respectively. Cooper delivered vital contributions to five titles, won a defensive player of the year award, started a fashion trend by playing with the drawstrings of his shorts out, patented the phrase Coop-a-loop and was the toughest defender Larry Bird ever faced, according to the Hick from French Lick himself.

And Wilkes, also known as Silk?

Between 1980 and 1983, he averaged no less than 19.6 points per game, with a high of 22.6 He also scored 37 points in Game 6 of the 1980 Finals, when the Lakers clinched the first title of the Showtime era. The performance would be among the more memorable clutch games of the decade, but is instead mostly forgotten, thanks to Magic's 42-point, 15-rebound, career-defining performance.

Some other curious choices. Trevor Ariza at 29. Ariza came to the Lakers at the start of the 2007-08 season, had a decent month, hurt his foot, missed most of the season and returned in an ineffective role in the playoffs. Then last year he had a solid year as a role player, saving his best basketball for the playoffs. That's his Laker career. A documentary on his career in the purple and gold could be wrapped up in about two-and-a-half minutes. He should not be ahead of guys like the bespectacled Kurt Rambis (33), Cedric Ceballos (34), Sam Perkins (36), Elden Campbell (35), Sedale Threatt (42) or even Jim Chones (41), Ron Harper (43) and Horace Grant (49). Twenty-ninth? Gah.

That rating's bad enough, but it gets worse when talking about the guy who replaced Ariza on this year's Lakers. Ron Artest could be the key to a repeat title for the Lakers. He's already improved their defense and has had a fairly pain-free transition to the team. He's also played 26 games.

And McMenamin ranks him as the 50th best Laker ever! After 26 games. In one of his other lists, he has Johnny Flynn as the second-best Timberwolves player in history. According to Basketball Reference, the Lakers have had 337 players on their roster. Pick a name, any name, and it will probably be more deserving than Artest. In two years will Artest belong on this list? Almost certainly. In a year he probably will deserve a slot. But 22 games in? Devean George, Chuck Nevitt, Travis Knight, Mark Madsen, Karl Malone and Brian Shaw all want to know what they have to do to gain entry.

The old-time Lakers fans can judge better than I can whether Mel Counts is too high at No. 30, though it seems way too far up the list for a guy best known for being the center who played instead of Wilt in the final minutes of the Game 7 loss to the Celtics in 1969.

Sedale Threatt should be several spots higher. Certainly ahead of someone like Luke Walton at No. 40, or even Andrew Bynum, who's due for a season-ending knee injury any day but is 38th on this list. Threatt came to the Lakers before the start of the 1992 season. At the time, it was considered another great signing by Jerry West because it gave the Lakers their first legitimate backup to Magic since Cooper began fading in the late 1980s. Then, a few games into the season, Magic called a press conference to talk about the HIV he'd "attained" and Showtime officially ended, along with Magic's career. But in an impossible situation - following Magic as Lakers point guard was like following Wooden at UCLA or Jordan as the Bulls's shooting guard - Threatt performed admirably. He led them to the playoffs in 1992, averaging 15 points per game. He sparked them the following season as well, leading them to a near-upset of the Suns in the first round.

Those years are sort of forgotten in Lakers history books, coming after Showtime and before Shaq's arrival. Threatt ensured that no matter how bad things got, they never reached Clippers-level of incompetence. Move him up that list.

Lists serve little purpose beyond igniting arguments, which is why they're so popular in sports. No matter how the rankings fall, someone argues they are wrong. This list isn't any different than any other. Except it has even more wrong with it.


Dad said...

Boy I am old but Elgin Baylor has to be ahead of Shaq even though they never could beat the Celtics. He and West carried the team that never had a center until Wilt came along. Also another old timer has to be in the top 50--Rudy Larusso who was very solid for about 10 years. He was the 3rd best player during the 60's.

Shawn Fury said...

Yes, with your autographed Elgin picture, you probably are biased, but I could see moving him up as well. He does have Larusso 16th on the list. Who was the guy that got killed by the tree?

Dad said...

Jim Krebs got killed by the tree, looked him up today, he did average 10 a game. Good for Rudy, I listened one nite when they played the St. Louis Hawks with both West and Baylor out he went for 50!

Jerry said...

How about Kwame Brown?? Where does he rate??

Shawn Fury said...


Jerry said...

I take it there have only been 338 players to play for the Lakers then.

Anonymous said...

Amazing as always