New Day on the Beach Dawns for Lakers : Basketball: Cast is almost the same, but so much has changed in the last year as they open camp.


The sun peeps over Diamond Head on a new Laker day that only resembles their old ones.

Magic Johnson and the same cast of characters are back on Waikiki in their alabaster hotel training headquarters. If you had missed the last year, you'd think nothing has changed.

Of course, everything has changed.

In 12 months, Johnson retired, Mike Dunleavy left, Randy Pfund became the coach and Johnson returned, planning to play 50 to 60 games.

Five of the 12 Lakers on last May's playoff roster are gone. Free agent Terry Teagle went to Europe. Keith Owens, Chucky Brown and Rory Sparrow were waived. Jack Haley suffered a knee injury over the summer and will be sidelined until February.

Here, though, are the talented rookie guards, No. 1 pick Anthony Peeler of Missouri and No. 2 pick Duane Cooper of USC, plus James Edwards, the 7-foot former Clipper, Piston, Sun, Pacer, Cavalier and Laker.

The veteran Lakers aren't accustomed to competition for key spots, but even by their standards, this camp is open and shut.

There are only 15 players here, 11 of them assured of making the team:

Centers--Vlade Divac and Edwards.

Forwards--James Worthy, Sam Perkins, A.C. Green and Elden Campbell.

Guards--Johnson, Byron Scott, Sedale Threatt, Peeler and Cooper.

Guard Tony Smith will need a miracle to stay on the team. Failing that, he will probably wind up with his old sponsor, Dunleavy, now coach and general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks.

That would leave two free agents, Sean Higgins and Alex Blackwell, to fight it out for the last spot on the roster.

Only one other player, 6-4 Kim Breaux, a free-agent swing man from Wyoming, is in camp.

Personnel issues aside, this is a camp like few others.

Johnson is the first HIV-positive professional athlete known to be playing.

Pfund is a rookie coach with a unique problem: the re-integration of a franchise player who may sit out almost 40% of the regular-season games.

Everyone else will have to learn how to play with Johnson again--and without him again.

"Ordinarily, you do have to play without your star player," Pfund said Thursday. "We're just going to have to play longer stretches of time. Not only because of the games he'll be missing. We'll try to keep his minutes to a realistic amount. We're trying to get James Worthy's minutes under (an average of) 39, which is a bad word, too.

"We played a whole season without Magic last year and I think we can play games without him. I think we're more prepared to do that than we were in years before.

"The thing is, it's not just that Magic is the most dominating player at his position in the game. The thing that makes it interesting is how unique a player he is. That's why it's hard."

How different is Johnson?

He is the team's quarterback, whether from the top of the circle or the low post.

He draws double-teams and frees teammates for open shots.

He is the Lakers' No. 2 scorer and No. 1 option in crunch time.

He can guard anybody, from a point guard to a power forward.

He averaged seven rebounds per game in his final season. When he left, the Lakers went from a team that outrebounded opponents by 2.4 per game to one that was beaten by 3.2 per game. Their running game disappeared entirely and they averaged 100 points, their franchise low in 32 years in Los Angeles.

Pfund wants to extend the Laker defense a la Pat Riley, rather than contract it as Dunleavy was obliged to, hoping to revive the fast break.

If Peeler and Cooper can contribute, Pfund's Lakers will not only be younger and quicker, but infinitely deeper and more flexible than Dunleavy's Gang of Six that made the NBA finals in 1991.

Johnson can play guard and forward. Peeler can play No. 1 or 2 guard, as can Threatt. Divac can play center and power forward, as can Perkins. Campbell, scheduled to be a small forward, can play any spot on the front line. For better or worse, the Lakers' possibilities include anything under the Hawaiian sun.

Laker Notes

James Worthy, whose season ended after 54 games by knee surgery, and Sam Perkins, who sat out April because of a sore shoulder, appear recovered. Worthy has played in pickup games at UCLA for the last month. Perkins participated in Pete Newell's big man's camp in July.

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