The Lakers are back! Well, maybe. Right now they are a trendy pick for League Pass Darlings, but the only thing you can really count on about the Lakers is the fact that they will be memorable, good or bad.
Since their championship in 2000, the Lakers have been about as compelling as sports can get. They've had wildly up and down years, littered with exceptional NBA players and exceptionally awful ones alike. What makes the franchise special is not how consistently good they are, nor how their highs or lows are particularly worse than everyone else's. No, it's because no matter what, there is going to be a great or horrible player that you won't ever forget. Here is a list of the eight best and seven worst Lakers players since 2000.
15 Best: Lamar Odom
The versatile lefty was a killer sixth-man off the bench for Los Angeles. Without him the team probably loses Kobe, doesn’t win two more championships in ’09 and ’10, and certainly loses a lot more games. His ability to defend post players while attacking them off the dribble on the other end made him an ideal pairing with Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum down low. He was also the centerpiece of the trade that sent Shaquille O’Neal to Miami and officially handed the keys of the team over to Kobe. Though he should have been a franchise player somewhere, he found his calling as an overqualified bench player that closed out games and punished backup big men on a nightly basis. Most players choose individual achievement over team success, but Odom balanced both and will be remembered as a dear part of Lakers family because of it.
14 Worst: Kwame Brown
Poor Kwame Brown just never really had a chance in the NBA. No, he didn’t turn out to be a good player really, but he was the number one pick in the 2001 draft and he never found a way to make people forget how unfit he was to be taken first in a draft that yielded future hall-of-famers such as Pau Gasol, Tony Parker, and Joe Johnson. Kwame had moments of being an above-average defender down low, but he had something similar to rocks for hands and couldn’t really catch the ball when passed to. He also couldn’t shoot, but how many people with rock-hands can shoot? MJ drafted him straight from high school without any true idea of whether or not he was ready to play in the NBA, and sometimes it's difficult to wonder how things would have played out had he not been the first pick or drafted straight from high school. Again, poor Kwame Brown.
13 Best: Pau Gasol
The older Gasol hermano is one of the most skilled big men the league has ever seen and probably the second-best European player ever behind Dirk. Even as an old version of himself, he is still capable of expertly picking apart defenses with pinpoint passes to cutters or taking an inexperienced defender down to the post for an easy bucket. As a member of the Lakers, Pau shifted the power in the league back to Hollywood and helped guide them to three consecutive Finals appearances and two championships. He not only was the perfect second star to pair with Kobe due to his quiet demeanor and willingness to be the second guy, but was also one of the best big men in the league at the time. His time ended poorly with LA, but it can’t be ignored how valuable he was to the last back-to-back league champion.
12 Worst: Mark Madsen
I had a briefly difficult time figuring out if “Mad Dog” Madsen was actually as bad as he seemed back in the day, or if it was him dancing at championship parades that made him seem terrible. The answer is that nope; he was pretty terrible. In his rookie season he posted nine Club Trillion games, which is where you enter a game and play for at least one minute and do not record a single stat. [For more information on this event, read Club Trillion founder Mark Titus of The Ringer.] Madsen was everything you’d want from a benchwarming big man: the same haircut I had when I was four, a collegiate career at Stanford University, and in 2003 against the Pacers he played something like 30 seconds of game time without a sock or a shoe on one of his feet. Instead of trying to locate the shoe and put it on—which happens occasionally in an NBA game—Madsen just took his sock off for better grip on the court and kept going. Barefoot!
11 Best: Robert Horry
Probably the most recognizable role player of all-time. Big Shot Bob seemed to hit nearly every big shot he ever took, had a hand on every loose ball, made the perfect pass, and sent opposing fans into cardiac arrest in the fourth quarter. He was the prototype for small-ball power forwards today and sank the entire city of Sacramento in 2002 with one of the most memorable playoff game-winners. He won with Olajuwon, he won with Duncan, but as a Laker he earned his reputation as the biggest Flip The Switch role player the league has ever seen. He was hated by 29 other fan bases at a time, but there was always one group that knew if the game was close he would have something to say before the end of it.
10 Worst: Nick Young
Swaggy P will forever be more of a state of mind than a basketball player. Well, he is a basketball player, but he hasn’t been a helpful basketball player in about five or six years. As a member of the Lakers, he has collected an impressive amount of airballs, missed reverse layups, poor defense, and still one of the most joyful smiles in the league. He has also routinely passed up easy shots or easy passes for contested jumpers, been impervious to criticism, and a victim of D’Angelo Russell: Snapchat Snitch. It’s hard to hate on a man who seems happy just to be a Los Angeles Laker, but I’m going to anyway because Nick Young has mostly been a very bad basketball player.
9 Best: Derek Fisher
Derek Fisher was Kobe’s backcourt mate for all of his important playoff runs. He was the steady but unspectacular guard that kept everything humming when Kobe shot 8-24 or 18-24. He made big threes, miracle heaves with .4 seconds left, flopped on defense, and kept an otherwise fragile collective psyche on the team intact. He was one of the premier role players of the past thirty years, and did all of the little things the Lakers needed. Fisher’s ability to harass opposing point guards and mostly stay out of Kobe or Shaq’s way on the other end were highly underrated aspects of those early 2000s championships, but they were years that future championship guards such as Mario Chalmers, Gary Payton and Jason Kidd could draw from when figuring out their own respective roles.
8 Worst: Stanislav Medvedenko
Slava was basically the tougher-looking Ukrainian version of Mark Madsen, only he made a couple more jumpers when he was on the floor and showed some flashes of having basketball skills at various points of his career. Unfortunately, he didn’t really develop into a contributing player and he wasn’t big enough to be a rim protector, so his memorable moment in the NBA might just be ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith using his name as an insult in one of his legendary rants. When he joined the Lakers he became something like a human victory cigar and got minutes primarily when his team was up big on an opponent. However, he slowly became a somewhat important backup big man for the Lakers, which probably was much more indicative of how short they were on rotation big men than how good he actually was. But really, with a name like Slava Medvedenko, you’re either going to be great at basketball or pretty bad at it.
7 Best: Rick Fox
Fox was a 3-and-D weapon capable of causing problems for opposing wings and occasionally delivering a hard foul so no one else had to. He was good at what he did, yes, but he also had no trouble doing what was necessary to make sure other people were less good at what they did. While never seen as anything more than a role player for the Lakers, Fox kept his cool in tight games and had a knack for steals, taking charges, snagging rebounds, or hitting a big shot late in games. He was a pretty typical role player for the Lakers, but he had the size and defensive prowess to completely take people like Scottie Pippen or Peja Stojakovic out of games on the biggest stages.
6 Worst: Carlos Boozer
It’d be irresponsible to put Boozer on here without acknowledging that in his prime years he was quite an effective player. It’d be even more irresponsible, however, to act like those years made up for his lone season with the Lakers in ’14-15. His numbers were fine, he seemed to smile a lot in the yellow uniforms, but he was such a drag to watch. He screamed a lot when he thought he got fouled while shooting and on defense he would scream out instructions to his teammates while opposing players could just about walk past him for easy buckets. It was like watching nine other guys on a court try to ignore him on the court because they just didn’t like him. And that’s fine, because we all have someone we try to ignore entirely, but we often don’t have to play with them or against them multiple times over the span of 82 basketball games.
5 Best: Andrew Bynum
The enormous Andrew Bynum was drafted straight out of high school and cut his teeth going against the best big man in the league. He had to, seeing as how the Lakers simply weren’t good enough without him. The great journalist JA Adande saw how effective Bynum was as a rim deterrent, and began to keep track of a made-up stat of his own: Shots Over Bynum’s Outstretched Arms, or SOBOA for twitter. The 7-foot-one-ish center drafted straight from high school was also surprisingly nimble for such a large person, and showed a skilled offensive game early on in his career. Sadly, Bynum didn’t last long in the league or with the Lakers, but through deep research of SOBOA and championship rings, it can be determined that he was, indeed, very valuable to the franchise.
4 Worst: Steve Nash
Nash was such a very small part of the Lakers he almost doesn’t count for this list. However, his contract was very much real, and in the 65 games that he did appear in, he mostly was bad. Call it old age, the result of a nasty shin injury, or being improperly used whenever he was on the court, but the fact remains that the Steve Nash the Lakers got when they traded for him was just about finished. He wasn’t the same player as he was when Phoenix was great, and it had already been a handful of seasons since he was an MVP-caliber player. There were a lot of high hopes for him as a member of the Lakers, but it was quite literally like watching someone's dad try to keep up with professional basketball players.
3 Best: Shaquille O’Neal
He’s arguably the most dominant player of all-time. He was the best player in the league during their three-peat from ’00-02, he was the most successful big man from the 90s, and he was the gravity that the rest of basketball circled around in his prime. Kobe stayed longer and won one more ring than he did, but when the Lakers were Shaq’s team they were essentially untouchable. O’Neal’s highest peaks as a Laker included completing the last three-peat in the NBA, destroying opposing big men, and proving to be too good to be held back by things like free throws. His lows include being swept from the playoffs multiple times and shooting free throws, which aren’t very terrible if you look at the peaks one more time. Say what you want about his conditioning, his lack of commitment to being the best player year-round, or the way he had a tendency to leave teams on a sour note. The fact remains that Shaq was damn good as a Laker.
2 Worst: Smush Parker
Smush Parker was the player Kobe hated the most. The NYC point guard with an intriguing name was supposed to be the young guard that complimented the star, and instead he became synonymous with Laker failure. Kobe mentioned something about how Parker made poor decisions on the court and was symbolic of the Lakers management choosing cheap options to put around him, but those aren’t great reasons to hate someone. What if I made up a better reason? Cool, so I think the first time they met, Smush was like, “Kobe? More like No-be, because you miss a lot of jump shots.” Anyway, Smush was actually fine stats-wise on the Lakers, but he was loathed by the local superstar and the fans decided they hated him too. That makes you the worst if you ask me.
1 Best: Kobe Bryant
Kobe has a legitimate claim as best Laker ever. He’s third all-time in scoring, won five championships, and was the face of the franchise for nearly 20 years. He carried the Lakers to relevancy after he helped push Shaq out and accepted the irrelevancy his team settled into after tearing his Achilles. The legendary guard is the closest thing we’ve ever seen to Jordan, and he is clearly one of the best ever to play the game. He has been a polarizing figure for much his career and didn’t do himself many favors with the way he hated on so many of his teammates. He was also nearly my pick for worst Laker since 2000, but couldn’t bring myself to troll Laker fans just because of Bryant’s final season. However, let it be known that Kobe’s legacy will not be the mostly terrible season he just had, but for starring as the leading man for the past twenty years in Hollywood that everyone wanted to see.
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