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In What Could Be His Last Laker Season, the Veteran Is Playing for High Stakes : McAdoo’s Job Is on the Line Against Celtics

Times Staff Writer

He once scored 50 points in a playoff game at Buffalo. He led the league in scoring for three consecutive seasons. He helped win a championship in his first season with the Lakers.

But now, in what could be his last season with the Lakers, Bob McAdoo is playing for his job.

The stakes are high, which is usually the case when a lot of money is involved. McAdoo will be 35 before next season, and his contract calls for him to make $979,000. That contract is not guaranteed, however, which means that he will make that only if the Lakers want him back.

If the Lakers choose not to bring McAdoo back, they could gain maneuverability to make personnel moves that they do not now have because of the salary cap. A team may replace a veteran free agent at 100% of what he last made, even if the team is over the cap, which the Lakers are.

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Since McAdoo earned $933,000 this season--$310,000 deferred--the Lakers could use the entire amount for another player if they decide not to bring back McAdoo for a fifth season.

And will the Lakers do that?

General Manager Jerry West said no decision has been made, but a source close to the Lakers said McAdoo’s fate has already been determined, and it’s hit the road, Mac.

McAdoo, however, believes that his chances of returning depend entirely on whether the Lakers beat the Celtics in this best-of-seven championship series that is tied, 1-1.

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“As far as I’m feeling, the only way that I can make it back on this squad is if we win,” he said.

“I have been on every kind of team in this league and I’ve had a lot of things happen to me over my career. This is just something else. But you can say I’m kind of paranoid about the situation.”

McAdoo has reason to feel that way, and not only because of what his salary would mean to the Laker chances of getting another player.

The Lakers have recently shown a philosophy of phasing out veteran players and replacing them with younger ones, which might indicate that McAdoo’s time with the Lakers is running out.

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First, there were Norm Nixon and Byron Scott, then Jamaal Wilkes and James Worthy, and now it could be McAdoo’s turn.

McAdoo believes that he has possibly four productive seasons left and hopes they can be with the Lakers. So it’s left squarely up to McAdoo to prove to the Lakers that he should be back.

If that’s the case, McAdoo did little to help his cause in Game 2. He made only one of seven shots and finished with six points, six fouls and one rebound in 22 minutes.

The Lakers won anyway, which is all that matters to McAdoo.

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“My future depends on the team winning,” he said.

McAdoo missed 15 games this season because of knee and heel injuries, but he still played in 66, averaging 10.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 17 minutes.

In this championship series against the tall front line of the Celtics, McAdoo’s performance is considered vital to the Lakers, who have trouble matching up with Boston’s big men.

When things go wrong with McAdoo, it is normally his defense that gets criticized.

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“When McAdoo plays, they go right at him with McHale and Parish,” Laker Coach Pat Riley said. “Kurt (Rambis) is a much better defensive player.”

McAdoo is usually a much better offensive player than Rambis, but now McAdoo seems to be struggling at both ends. In two games, McAdoo is shooting 7 for 20 and has 18 points, 11 fouls, 4 rebounds and no assists in a total of 43 minutes.

“Maybe McAdoo hasn’t been shooting the ball well, but he’s still a threat,” Riley said.

McAdoo said he would be even more of a threat if given the opportunity. Since he has been a Laker, McAdoo has cautiously avoided asking for more playing time, but now that he’s trying to save his job, he is speaking out more.

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“I want to be in the games in this series,” he said. “I have been over there on the bench. But that’s always been the program. I have to play the best I can in the minutes I get.

“Maybe my time will increase in this series because their front line is so big,” he said. “Hopefully, I can get in a little quicker if things start to go bad. I don’t like to always go in the game when we’re down 15-20 points.”

McAdoo has played with five other teams. His leave-takings have always been noteworthy. He left Buffalo and went to the New York Knicks with Tom McMillen for John Gianelli and cash in 1976. That trade was made two days after McAdoo had taken down a career-high 29 rebounds in a game against Indiana.

The Celtics got McAdoo during the 1978-79 season for three first-round draft choices and a player to be named later, who turned out to be Tom Barker. Then Detroit traded two first-round draft choices in 1980 to complete compensation for the Celtics’ signing of M.L. Carr.

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After that, the Nets signed McAdoo off the waiver list in 1981 and the Lakers got him from New Jersey for a second-round draft pick and cash.

Only 15 other players have scored more points in their careers than McAdoo.

There have been 56 games in the 823 that McAdoo has played when he has scored at least 40 points. He’s been over 50 four times.

If it really is over for McAdoo and the Lakers, he said people may never know what a good defensive player he actually was.

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When McAdoo blocked a shot in the Phoenix series, the Forum crowd gave him an ovation. After the game, Al Bianchi, Phoenix assistant coach, said he knew why. “After all, it was the first in his career.”

Actually, McAdoo has blocked 1,129 shots in his 13-year career and he wishes someone would notice.

“People have a tendency to look at my offense and say, ‘Well, he’s an offensive player,’ ” said McAdoo. “But I’ve been a good defensive player before and never gotten credit for it. That saddens me sometimes when people look at my game and say I can only play one phase.

“Hopefully, management will look at the tapes and see the guys who are playing defense and the ones who are not,” he said.

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McAdoo is not the only Laker who does not have a contract for next season. He joins Rambis, Mike McGee, Larry Spriggs, Ronnie Lester, Chuck Nevitt and Earl Jones.

The Lakers cannot, however, lump all the salaries of the free agents together and use the collective sum to sign another free agent. Because the Lakers have an $8.75 million payroll that is more than $5 million over the salary cap, they can sign one free agent for every one they do not keep.

After McAdoo, Rambis is the highest-paid at $325,000, so it is with McAdoo that the Lakers have their best chance to make a move, if that’s what they decide.

“All I can do is go out and play and try not to let anything bother me,” McAdoo said. “If we win, I’ll feel like I had a hand in it.”

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This is what it’s come to for McAdoo. Will he stay or will he go? In the next 10 days, he will find out.


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