New Lakers Karl Malone and Gary Payton have yet to share the court with both Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.

Loaded Lakers
still learning

With the addition of two future Hall of Famers to an already star-studded lineup, the Los Angeles Lakers shouldn't be hurting for points this season.

The key to reclaiming the NBA title, however, will be keeping opponents from matching them on the other end of the floor. At least that's the assessment of one of the top defenders in league history.

"Last year they didn't play defense really well for Phil. This year we're going to have to pick it up," said Gary Payton, a nine-time member of the NBA's all-defensive team. "With me and Karl (Malone) coming in and putting more aggressiveness into our defense I think that's going to happen.

"We're going to try to establish ourselves on defense. I think we know we can score, but I think we need to be a defensive team to win a championship."

Payton and Malone, second on the league's all-time scoring list, signed as free agents with the Lakers over the summer and make their debuts in the purple and gold in this week's exhibition games against the Golden State Warriors at the Stan Sheriff Center.

The addition of the duo to a roster headlined by center Shaquille O'Neal and guard Kobe Bryant gives the Lakers a Dream Team-like lineup.

Both newcomers have had more than their share of wars with the Lakers over their careers. After two days of practice Payton said he was already comfortable in purple and gold.

"It wasn't that hard," Payton said. "We're having fun out here, there's a lot of guys on this team who are veterans and we're having big fun. We're just getting ourselves right and working through everything. That's the fun part of this situation, just trying to learn the system.

"I'm tired of facing them, so I'm glad it came to a level where now I'm playing with them and we're going to get a lot of wins together."

Although they've been in the NBA for 31 years combined, the veteran duo are out to prove they still have a lot to offer as players.

Payton, 35, averaged 20.4 points and 8.3 assists while playing for Seattle and Milwaukee last season. Malone, who turned 40 in July, averaged 20.6 points and 7.8 rebounds in his 18th season with Utah.

After yesterday morning's practice at the University of Hawaii's Gym II, Malone showed off a chiseled physique on his 6-foot-9, 259-pound frame and brushed off talk of his possibly skipping the evening sessions of the Lakers' two-a-day workouts during training camp here.

"I'm not planning on skipping anything," Malone said. "If the coaches wanted me to skip, I will, but I've got things to learn and I will. But the most important thing is I'm here to do what I'm supposed to do. Hey, I'm 40, but that's fine, I'll take this 40 any day."

While he's among the club's newest members, the loquacious Payton isn't wasting time asserting himself with his teammates. The point guard will be assigned the job of running coach Phil Jackson's triangle offense.

"I can't just sit back," Payton said. "I have to come in here and be a leader right off. If we sit back and be passive with each other then it's going to take longer for us to jell, so I have to come in here and be aggressive."

Malone begged off media interviews on his second day of Lakers camp. But on Friday he talked about how strange it felt to wear the purple and gold. He couldn't quite believe he'd really switched teams after 18 years with the Utah Jazz.

But he said it felt more natural with every drill.

Malone downplayed talk that Bryant's presence or absence would negatively affect the team.

"I lost my mom (unexpectedly, in August)," Malone said. "That was the ultimate. So it's not a distraction to me."

Malone said he'd enjoyed his visits to Kona, so being in Hawaii brought back pleasant memories of his mom.

It was clear she weighed heavily on his mind.

"I'm doing this because this is what she'd want me to do," he said of his joining the Lakers in his quest for a championship ring.

Malone is also looking to provide a stabilizing influence for the team as the case involving Bryant runs its course through the season.

Bryant missed the first day of practice for veterans, but arrived in Honolulu on Friday night and made his first appearance at training camp yesterday.

"The most important thing is we have the whole team here," Malone said. "We're a team and we're working together, and having the whole squad here now is fun. All the pieces are here and now we have to start placing those pieces together.

"The most important thing is just being there, being there for everybody, not just Kobe, but being there for everybody. That's how you come together as a team."

With the job of blending the new players into the system -- the Lakers also signed forwards Horace Grant and Bryon Russell -- the Lakers had seen little more than the gym and the hotel until yesterday during their stay in Hawaii.

"We ain't had no fun," Payton said. "Coach let us off tonight, so I guess everybody can go out tonight and see a little bit of the island."

The Star-Bulletin's Kalani Simpson contributed to this story.


E-mail to Sports Editor


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2003 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --