So intent on building for the future that they agreed to take on former Clipper Benoit Benjamin, checkered past and all, the Lakers are gambling that unproven and unsigned Doug Christie will eventually carry them to greater heights than they would have reached this season with veteran Sam Perkins in their lineup.
"From our perspective, our objective all along is to get a little bit younger and a little more productive, and I think we've done that," General Manager Jerry West said at a Forum news conference Monday in announcing the acquisition of Benjamin and the rights to Christie from Seattle for Perkins.
"It's really kind of hard to say (where the deal leaves the team). We don't feel this is going to adversely affect us a lot. Obviously, we'd like to be higher in our quest to beat somebody in the playoffs, but realistically, when you look at the eighth-place team, seventh-place team, it's one round and out, and we don't want that to happen."
West said he hopes to sign Christie, who averaged 16 points in three seasons at Pepperdine, in time for the 6-foot-6 swingman to play the Lakers' final 15 or 20 games. A spokeswoman for Christie's attorney, Brad Marshall, said Marshall and the Lakers had begun negotiations "and Doug is very optimistic a contract between both parties will be consummated before the week is over."
Christie, 22, was available until the 17th pick in last year's draft--the Lakers passed on him and chose Anthony Peeler 15th--because of concerns over the two operations he has had on his left knee. Christie rejected a four-year, $2.742-million offer from the SuperSonics on Oct. 6, but Laker Coach Randy Pfund said team officials have checked Christie's workouts and believe he is not out of shape.
"This is something that takes us in a direction our owner is comfortable with and I'm comfortable with," Pfund said. "Benoit is a true center and he can give us help in that area, and Doug Christie is a multi-position player and a No. 17 draft choice and we feel he can be a real outstanding forward."
West said he envisions Christie ultimately at point guard, but Pfund will leave his options open until Christie arrives. In the meantime, he considers the deal a positive move.
"We've played without Magic Johnson for a year and a half, and basically we've been a .500 team," Pfund said. "It's time for a change."
The Lakers will have to make a roster change if Christie signs, and they might make one before then anyway. James Edwards is a candidate for a trade, given their new glut at center. West declined to discuss a possible trade by which the Lakers would acquire the rights to unsigned Maverick draft pick Jim Jackson for Vlade Divac, saying only that he will keep talking with all teams up to Thursday's 6 p.m. PST trading deadline.
A Dallas source said that the Mavericks don't want to assume Divac's $4-million 1993-94 salary because they will need the money to sign their 1993 top draft pick. Jackson last spurned a $10.8-million, four-year offer in which $7 million would have been paid by Dec. 31, 1992. He wants a guaranteed six-year deal, two years longer than Maverick owner Don Carter wanted to give him.
Perkins, who averaged 13.7 points and 7.7 rebounds in 49 games this season, will join his new team for practice Thursday in Sacramento. He is expected to replace Michael Cage as Seattle's starting center, although Coach George Karl might also use him at power forward.
"I'm in shock," Perkins said in a statement released by the SuperSonics. "But at the same time, the Los Angeles Lakers have to do what they have to do. But having talked to the Seattle management, I know that they were definitely interested in acquiring me. . . . (The SuperSonics) have got what it takes to win, there's no question the talent is there."
For the Lakers, Divac will return to the starting lineup at center and Benjamin will be a reserve. Benjamin went through a 2 1/2-hour practice with his new teammates Monday afternoon, after declaring he has changed since publicly and profanely declaring he didn't care about Clipper fans--and since making obscene gestures at the Sports Arena crowd in his first visit there after the deal that sent him to Seattle.
More recently, Benjamin was fined $500 by the SuperSonics last Tuesday for skipping a shoot-around on the day of a game.
Benjamin, 28, averaged 6.7 points and 3.6 rebounds for the SuperSonics and was on the bench for 11 of Seattle's last 17 games. He began the season averaging 13.1 points and 8.4 rebounds, but his work ethic was criticized by Karl, who stressed an up-tempo game. He has a five-year, $17.7-million contract that goes through the 1995-96 season.
"I've matured as a player and as a person," said Benjamin, whose 7-foot, 260-pound frame showed no signs of the weight problems that plagued him as a Clipper.
"You grow up and you go through so many things in life. At some point, you have to put up or shut up. . . . I was emotionally caught up and I was hurt (after being traded). But I apologize and I'm very sorry. Everyone seems to want to hold that over my head."
The Lakers are willing to ignore his reputation.
"What I concentrate on is looking at what he has done and not what he hasn't," Pfund said. "I know Benoit has been in the 14- to 17-point range and he's a good shot blocker and what we want to do is get him into our system and get him some minutes and see how it works here.
"As Jerry pointed out, he has been a real productive player. We're going to give him a chance to fit into our system. . . .
"I can't get caught up in what he wasn't and what the expectations were where he was before. He's a good rebounder, a good outlet man and he gives us a presence in the middle that we like. And we have the positive of getting Doug Christie, who we looked at real close before the draft."
Said guard Byron Scott: "It's tough when you have a player of Sam's caliber and all of a sudden he's gone. I got to know him personally and I wish him well and I hope he can go up there and play basketball the way we know he's capable of playing. . . .
"I think Benoit will look at this as a positive change in his situation. He's a big body who can score low down in the post and block the middle, and that can only help us."
SAM PERKINS' STATISTICS
Season Team G FG FT Reb Pts 1984-85 Dallas 82 .471 .820 7.4 11.0 1985-86 Dallas 80 .503 .814 8.6 15.4 1986-87 Dallas 80 .482 .828 7.7 14.8 1987-88 Dallas 75 .450 .822 8.0 14.2 1988-89 Dallas 78 .464 .833 8.8 15.0 1989-90 Dallas 76 .493 .778 7.5 15.9 1990-91 Lakers 73 .495 .821 7.4 13.5 1991-92 Lakers 63 .450 .817 8.8 16.5 1992-93 Lakers 49 .459 .829 7.7 13.7 Totals 656 .475 .816 8.0 14.4
Season Team G FG FT Reb Pts 1984-85 Dallas 4 .490 .765 12.8 18.8 1985-86 Dallas 10 .429 .767 8.3 14.9 1986-87 Dallas 4 .500 .696 8.5 17.0 1987-88 Dallas 17 .451 .803 6.6 13.5 1989-90 Dallas 3 .444 .765 7.0 15.0 1990-91 Lakers 19 .548 .761 8.3 17.7 Totals 57 .484 .767 8.1 15.8
BENOIT BENJAMIN'S STATISTICS
Season Team G FG FT Reb Pts 1985-86 Clippers 79 .490 .746 7.6 11.1 1986-87 Clippers 72 .449 .715 8.1 11.5 1987-88 Clippers 66 .491 .706 8.0 13.0 1988-89 Clippers 79 .541 .744 8.8 16.4 1989-90 Clippers 71 .526 .732 9.3 13.5 1990-91 Clippers 70 .496 .712 10.3 14.0 1991-92 Seattle 63 .478 .687 8.1 14.0 1992-93 Seattle 31 .497 .701 3.6 6.7 Totals 531 .497 .722 6.4 13.0
Season Team G FG FT Reb Pts 1991-92 Seattle 5 .488 .906 6.6 13.8 1992-93 Seattle 9 .561 .500 5.1 6.1 Totals 14 .524 .760 5.6 8.9
* COMMENTARY: C6