Lakers' dream team should be hard to beat

Friday, July 11th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ To even things up, maybe other NBA teams should be allowed at least eight guys on the floor when they play the Lakers.

That would allow double coverage of the four superstars _ Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Gary Payton _ on the Lakers' newly assembled dream team.

Los Angeles' fifth starter could be practically anybody _ Jack Nicholson? _ and merely inbound the ball.

``They have a Hall of Fame team in the making,'' New Jersey Nets assistant coach Lawrence Frank said. ``They have an outstanding team, an outstanding system and an outstanding coach (Phil Jackson).

``You always try to keep up with the Joneses and try to win in this league, but it's hard to keep up with that.''

On Thursday, Malone, the NBA's second-leading career scorer, joined nine-time All-Star Payton in committing to the Lakers. Neither can make it official until Wednesday, the first day free agents can sign.

``It's been like a kind of a whirlwind,'' Malone told KCBS-TV. ``I'm excited man. I can't even tell you. I started training a month ago and I knew this day would come.

``This is Kobe and Shaq's team. I have a job to do as well. I come in with nothing but respect, but I come in with a hard-working attitude to do what I need to do to help us win a championship.''

Malone and Payton, two of the best players in the league over their careers, are both missing one distinction _ a championship ring. To try to fix that, each is taking a substantial pay cut to join the Lakers.

O'Neal, who has earned three rings over the past four years, and Magic Johnson, on five Lakers' championship teams in the 1980s, helped lure Malone to Los Angeles.

``The two strongest influences were Shaquille and Magic,'' said Malone's agent, Dwight Manley. ``He's going to become a Laker. In his mind, he's already a Laker. He's very excited.''

The Lakers won three consecutive NBA titles before losing to eventual champion San Antonio in the second round this year. Afterward, O'Neal and Bryant indicated they would like to have their ``supporting cast'' beefed up before next season.

General manager Mitch Kupchak certainly took heed.

Malone, who turns 40 on July 24, made it to the NBA Finals twice, in 1997 and 1998. Both times, the Jazz lost to Michael Jordan and the Jackson-coached Chicago Bulls.

Malone averaged 20.6 points last season to lead Utah for the 17th consecutive year. His average of 7.75 rebounds was the team's highest for the 18th straight year.

Although Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller was sorry to see Malone go, he understood his championship hopes.

``I don't think it's in me to deny him that, even if I could,'' Miller said, adding that joining Los Angeles' other three superstars seems a good bet for Malone's championship hopes.

``If you've got to go with the odds, that's not a bad place to go.''

Malone's 36,374 points trail only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 38,387. The record is still within range, but sharing the offense with Bryant, O'Neal and Payton will cut into his 25.4 career scoring average.

He is the only player with 35,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 4,000 assists and 2,000 steals. His 1,434 games is fourth on the career list.

The league's MVP in 1997 and 1999, Malone averaged at least 25 points for 11 straight seasons (1987-98).

Malone, who made $19.3 million last year, agreed to take the veteran's minimum salary of $1.5 million with the Lakers.

The 34-year-old Payton, dealt by Seattle to Milwaukee at last season's trading deadline, would be limited to earning $4.9 million with Los Angeles in the first year of a multiyear contract. He got $12.6 million last season.

One of the league's best defensive guards, Payton has averaged 18.3 points and 7.4 assists since coming into the NBA with the SuperSonics in 1990.