Karl Malone and Gary Payton

By Jason Wojciechowski on July 13, 2003 at 4:27 PM

So, the two old men are going to be Lakers. I think Marc Stein said it best when he noted, "If you can get Gary Payton and Karl Malone for a combined $6.4 million, you don't worry about the pitfalls."

Yeah, they're old. Yeah, they're not playing at the Hall of Fame level they once did. But they're better than the alternatives, and they add, if nothing else, depth.

Even if you want to debate whether you'd rather have a shooter like Derek Fisher or a ball handler and defender like Gary Payton on the floor with Kobe, you can conclude that it's better to have both. If you wanted to go small, you could play all three at the same time, with Kobe at small forward.

Even if you want to say that Malone can't score like he used to, that he won't adjust well to being a role player, isn't it nicer to have him out there backed up by Mark Madsen rather than Madsen backed up by Robert Horry? Yeah, Horry was a credible three-point threat, but after last year's playoff debacle, he probably lost a lot of the respect that made teams not just leave him alone out there. And yes, Horry was a pretty good defender, and tended to hold his own against the likes of Tim Duncan more than most guys in the league could. But it's nearing the end for Robert. I'd love to see the Lakers try to resign him on the cheap. He'd be a much better end-of-the-bench option as a defensive presence and rebounder than Samaki Walker would. Did anyone see Walker get decimated by Tim Duncan? It was ugly. Madsen and Horry both would keep Dunc off the block, push him out to 18 feet, and make him shoot jumpers. Sure, he was pretty automatic shooting those, but there's not a lot else you can ask defensively against that. If he can put it up with a hand in his face and knock it down, you just shrug your shoulders and do it again next time. Against Walker, though, Duncan looked like Shaq with the kind of position he was getting. As good as he was at shooting 15 foot jumpers, he's far better (as most big men are) at five foot hooks, and that's what Walker gave him. Samaki was basically useless and I'll be glad to see him go.

I am a little sad that this probably means the end of the Mark Madsen-as-starter era, because it was fun. Madsen worked visibly harder on the court than anyone else I've seen, and he did a pretty good job defensively. He's not that big a guy, but he's not afraid to knock around in there, grab rebounds, throw some elbows, and generally get way more pissed than you might expect a nice Mormon boy to get. But then he always had that smile at the end, too, which said that he was having a grand old time out there, even when he had that massive scratch across his body for like two months. His complete lack of touch, though, and his inability to handle the ball at all, turned the game into five on four on the other end. If he got an offensive rebound, he could throw it down. But if you gave it to him wide open eight feet away from the basket, he knew he couldn't shoot it from there, so he'd drive in and almost invariably lose the ball. It was too bad, because I'm certain he had at least some offensive ability at Stanford. You just don't draft guys who play like that, especially in the first round. But years on the bench and playing on the second team in practice and just generally preparing for a career as a defensive specialist probably eroded his offensive skills. It reminds me of Ben Grieve, discussing his weak throwing arm, saying, "If I had this bad an arm when I was in high school, I wouldn't have been the number one pick in the draft." He never did explain what happened that he couldn't throw anymore, though.

I just hope Madsen resigns to back up Malone.

Most importantly, though, the Lakers need some kind of servicable backup center.
He doesn't have to be an Olowakandi or a Mourning, but it's got to be someone better than Samaki Walker, too. When those times came that Madsen was basically playing center and was the receptor of the post entry pass that got the offense started, things turned ugly. Then again, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen never had much more than Will Perdue going for them, so maybe Phil needs to implement a dual-triangle, where the focus switches to the outside when Shaq isn't in the game. It has been mentioned that the Lakers ran a lot of screen-and-rolls for Kobe when Shaq wasn't in, so maybe even just essentially abandoning the triple post when Shaq's resting or hurt might work. These are professionals who've all been playing a long time. If they can't handle learning two different offensive systems, something's wrong.