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Jerry West clarifies comments about the Lakers' defense and critiques the team's offense

February 11, 2011 |  1:02 pm

Hearing his critical comments about the Lakers' defense and age repeated to the team at practice and games, dissected on talk radio and analyzed by various outlets, including this one, was a situation that Lakers Hall of Famer Jerry West described as "laughable" and just part of an "endless soap opera."

So what caused such a commotion?

Oh, nothing, other than appearing three weeks ago at the annual Orange County Automobile Dealers Assn. luncheon, as reported by the Orange County Register, and giving his take on various Lakers topics. The talk included concerns about the team's longevity: "I don't think the Lakers will be good for much longer. You can keep a car running for a long time by changing the tires, etc. You can't change a player's tires." It had a scathing critique of the Lakers' defense: "If there's a loose ball now, how often do they get it? The reason you 'can't play defense' is because you can't!" And it expressed more optimism about an arch rival's championship chances. "I think Boston is a very dangerous team. I would not want to play them every other night."

Fresh off the Lakers' 92-86 victory Thursday over the Celtics, West, speaking Friday at a promotional event in Malibu in connection with his role as executive director of the Northern Trust Open, said the public took his comments too much at face value.

"You can't even have an opinion anymore," West said. "Everyone has an opinion. I was joking."

The Lakers (37-16) enter Friday's game in New York (26-25) winning their first three games of a seven-game trip, which West said proved that getting away from the local media scrutiny eased the pressure on the team. But he still didn't hold back on providing comments that will likely again gain traction, though he acknowledged the Lakers have made progress in fixing the problems described below.

"To a lesser degree, I think the Lakers biggest problem defensively has been their offense," West said. "If they don't run patiently with their offense. They have two big guys, and when they get down in their set, they're very good. But if they turn the ball over and have quick shots, they can't get back. You have to give the other teams credit. All coaches do the same thing. Some have better talent. The Lakers have great talent, and they should be favored to win. But as I say, they're not going to win if they don't run their offense correctly, which will lead to bad defense."

That was just one of many things West enthusiastically addressed. The topics were wide-ranging, including the upcoming Northern Trust Open that will take place Feb. 14 -20 at Riviera Country Club and has confirmed 21 of the 30 top money winners, including Phil Mickelson. He also talked about the Lakers' plans to unveil a statue in his honor outside Staples Center on Feb. 17, his belief that Lamar Odom was snubbed from the All-Star game and, of course, the state of the Lakers.

With the Lakers defeating Boston on Thursday, a game West described as a "great win," he said he's more optimistic about their championship chances -- but that comes with qualifiers.

He argued that the great unknown involves how healthy the players can stay for the duration of the season. While he said that "losing Kobe Bryant or Pau Gasol would destroy this team" and that the Lakers in that case would "become a common team," he said the same would be true if Miami lost LeBron James or Dwyane Wade ("they would not be a threat to win a championship") or if the Celtics were without Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce.

And getting a season split on the Celtics didn't ease West's worry about the Lakers' arch rival one bit. 

"I would not want to play Boston in a seven-game series, regardless of who it's going to be," he said. "There's a long way to go."

-- Mark Medina

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