NBA History: Top 10 Los Angeles Lakers Short-Timers Contributing to Title Teams
Trevor Ariza and Jordan Farmar defend against Carmelo Anthony
The Los Angeles Lakers have a rich history filled with championships, legends and records. In fact, the franchise is one of the top five in North American professional sports.
When people think of the title teams, they think of the biggest Lakers stars, including Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.
In addition, some of the mainstay role players during the dynasty runs also come to mind, including Michael Cooper, Robert Horry and Derek Fisher.
However, there are quite a few unsung heroes in the franchise's history. The Lakers have had many players who contributed significantly to championships in very short stints with the team.
This list breaks down the top 10 Lakers that fit this role. The only parameters that I used were that eligible players could not have played for the team more than five seasons, nor could they have won more than two titles.
For example, Brian Shaw, who played only a few years with the team but won three championships, I would consider a mainstay on one of the dynasties.
Without further ado, here are the top 10 Lakers short timers that contributed to championships.
10. Mike McGee
Mike McGee (40) dribbling by Danny Ainge
Seasons With the Lakers: 1981-1986
Championship Seasons: 1982, 1985
Stats With LA: 8.2 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 0.9 apg, 0.1 bpg, 0.6 spg, 52% FG, 33% 3FG, 59% FT
Mike McGee was the Lakers’ top draft choice in 1981 following a stellar collegiate basketball career at Michigan, where he became the Big Ten’s all-time scoring leader.
With the Lakers, McGee had a hard time breaking into the starting lineup, trying to beat out players like Norm Nixson, Magic Johnson and Byron Scott. In addition, Michael Cooper usually was the first guard off the bench for the Showtime teams.
Despite struggling to get a lot of playing time, McGee added to a potent reserve unit. As a combo guard/forward player, he scored at an efficient clip, peaking with a .594 shooting percentage in the 1983-1984 season.
Mike McGee helped Los Angeles win two championships, including a strong contribution in the 1985 playoffs. Over 17 games that postseason, McGee averaged 11.2 ppg and made half of his three point attempts.
9. Jordan Farmar
Seasons With the Lakers: 2006-2010
Championship Seasons: 2009, 2010
Stats With LA: 6.9 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 2.1 apg, 0.1 bpg, 0.8 spg, 43% FG, 36% 3FG, 66% FT
After Derek Fisher left the Lakers in 2004, it was unclear who would lead the team at the point guard position. After a brief run with Chucky Atkins, it was clear that the Lakers’ management was not satisfied with the play of Smush Parker.
The team hoped that Farmar would become the solution to the point guard problem. Coming into the NBA after a successful career at UCLA, the Lakers were excited about Farmar’s athletic ability and 42-inch vertical leap.
Although Farmar started slowly, enduring a few stints in the D-League, he eventually earned his way into the Lakers’ rotation, becoming one of the core members of the “Bench Mob” during the 2007-2008 season—one of the top reserve units in the league.
Although criticized for not running Phil Jackson’s triangle offense consistently, Farmar contributed with timely scoring and hustle plays during the 2009 and 2010 championship runs.
Steve Blake may have replaced Farmar as the team’s backup point guard during the 2010 offseason, but Jordan Farmar’s play will be remembered on one of only 11 teams to win back-to-back titles in NBA history.
8. Jim Chones
Seasons With the Lakers: 1979-1981
Championship Season: 1980
Stats With LA: 10.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.0 bpg, 0.6 spg, 50% FG, 69% FT
Jim Chones began his career in the ABA with the New York Nets. After five seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles thought Jim Chones would be the team’s future power forward alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Joining the team in 1979, Chones helped the Lakers win a title in 1980 with steady averages of 7.4 ppg and 6.5 rpg in the playoffs.
While working hard that offseason, Coach Paul Westhead cut back Chones’ minutes in an attempt to bring him off the bench. By the time Chones earned his starting spot back, it was clear that he had lost some motivation.
Despite averaging 8.0 rpg during the 1980-1981 season, Chones was traded to the Washington Bullets, where a knee injury would end his career the following season.
7. Glen Rice
Seasons With the Lakers: 1999-2000
Championship Season: 2000
Stats With LA: 16.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.3 apg, 0.2 bpg, 0.6 spg, 43% FG, 38% 3FG, 87% FT
Glen Rice was perhaps best known for his smooth shooting stroke throughout the NBA. After winning the 1995 Three-Point Shootout at All-Star Weekend, Rice scored a record 20 points in the third quarter of the 1997 All-Star Game.
In the middle of the lockout-shortened 1999 season, he was traded to Los Angeles for Eddie Jones and Elden Campbell (with J.R. Reid also joining LA).
While allowing Kobe Bryant to play more at his natural shooting guard position, Rice provided the Lakers with a consistent outside scoring threat as a third option on offense.
During the 2000 playoffs, Rice helped Los Angeles win its first title in 12 years with his 12.4 points per game and 42 percent shooting from three-point range. His outside shooting ability helped space the floor to allow Shaq to dominate in the paint.
When opponents double-teamed O’Neal, Rice often made them pay with a timely three.
Despite his contributions, Rice was criticized for his lackadaisical defense and inability to pick up the triangle offense. He was subsequently traded after the championship season for the next player on this list.
6. Horace Grant
Seasons With the Lakers: 2000-2001, 2003-2004
Championship Season: 2001
Stats With LA: 6.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.5 apg, 0.6 bpg, 0.6 spg, 45% FG, 76% FT
Horace Grant may be one of the most underrated players in NBA history. After winning three titles with the Chicago Bulls as a solid frontcourt contributor, Grant eventually made his way to another Phil Jackson team when the Lakers orchestrated a trade that shipped Glen Rice to New York.
Easily recognized by his trademark wrap-around protective goggles, Grant was very important to the team, as he provided a steady outside shot and savvy veteran defense to go up against a Western Conference full of top power forwards—Tim Duncan, Chris Webber, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Antawn Jamison, Rasheed Wallace and Karl Malone.
With Grant’s solid play, the Lakers would go on to sweep Portland, Sacramento and San Antonio in the playoffs en route to a 15-1 playoff record and a championship in 2001.
In the offseason, Grant decided to leave the team and sign back with the Orlando Magic. He probably should have stayed as he would have won another ring in 2002.
When he finally returned to Los Angeles in 2003, he teamed with a formidable foursome of Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Gary Payton.
The fantasy season, however, was not to be as Grant went down with an injury and missed the playoffs. With Malone also injured, the Lakers would losing to the Detroit Pistons in the Finals.
5. Ron Harper
Seasons With the Lakers: 1999-2001
Championship Seasons: 2000, 2001
Stats With LA: 6.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.0 apg, 0.5 bpg, 1.0 spg, 42% FG, 29% 3FG, 69% FT
Ron Harper played a role similar to Grant's, coming in and winning immediately, except Harper managed to win two titles with the Lakers.
Sometimes called a “poor man’s Michael Jordan,” Harper started off his NBA career in Cleveland by displaying a brilliant all-around game. With his high-flying act, it was hardly surprising that Ron Harper also drew comparisons to Julius Erving.
After sustaining a knee injury while playing for the Los Angeles Clippers, Harper lost much of his jumping ability and speed. By the time he joined the Chicago Bulls, he reinvented himself as a top perimeter defender and veteran leader.
Along with Jordan and Scottie Pippen, Harper formed perhaps the best perimeter defensive team of all time. He contributed to the 1995-1996 team that won an NBA record 72 wins en route to three consecutive championships.
Not surprisingly, Phil Jackson recruited Harper to help his new Lakers team learn the triangle offense. With Los Angeles, he helped the team record its second-highest win total in 2000 (67 wins) and helped mentor the rising superstar Kobe Bryant. He also contributed 8.6 ppg during the 2000 playoffs.
In addition, Harper returned from an injury to hit some timely clutch jumpers against the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2001 Finals, as seen towards the end of this career highlight video.
Looking at his numbers does Harper little justice, as his impact on the Lakers was tremendous and simply could not easily be summed up by traditional statistics.
4. Mychal Thompson
Seasons With the Lakers: 1987-1991
Championship Seasons: 1987, 1988
Stats With LA: 8.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 0.6 apg, 0.8 bpg, 0.5 spg, 51% FG, 68% FT
As Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was aging, the Lakers needed a reliable backup for the center. Mychal Thompson was the solution that helped LA win the first back-to-back titles since the Boston Celtics in the late 1960s.
When Thompson joined the team, the Lakers boasted four No. 1 draft picks. Along with Thompson, these players included Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and James Worthy.
Using tricks he had learned while playing with Kevin McHale back at the University of Minnesota, Thompson played stellar defense on the Celtics star that helped propel the Lakers to an impressive Finals win over Boston in 1987.
During his four-and-a-half seasons in Los Angeles, Thompson proved to be one of the hardest workers on the team and instantly became a fan favorite. His lighthearted and jovial personality could be seen in this video clip with Chick Hearn.
Thompson had a defined role which he played to near-perfection in Los Angeles. With a couple of championships, few short-timers can top his accomplishments.
3. Jim McMillian
Seasons With the Lakers: 1970-1973
Championship Season: 1972
Stats With LA: 15.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.3 apg, 47% FG, 81% FT
When many think of the great Lakers teams of the late 1960s and early 1970s, they think of superstars like Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. Even after those three players, Gail Goodrich often comes to mind.
But we can see how important Jim McMillian was for those teams. The Lakers started a North American professional-sports franchise-record winning streak of 33 games when Baylor retired and Jim McMillian took his place in the lineup.
In fact, during the 1971-1972 season, McMillian averaged 18.8 points per game while totaliing a .482 field-goal percentage. This was hardly surprising to those familiar with his highly-successful career at Columbia University.
That 1971-1972 Lakers team may arguably be the best team in NBA history, as not only did it put up the all-time winning streak record, but it also holds the records for point differential (+12.3) and road winning percentage (.816). In addition, the team led the NBA that season in points scored, rebounding and assists.
Jim McMillian continued his impressive play throughout that historic playoff season as he notched 19.1 points per game in helping the Lakers secure their first championship in Los Angeles.
McMillian certainly impressed many in just his second season in the league. While he picked up much of the scoring, teammate Happy Hairston focused on rebounding. Together, these two were able to make up for the absence of Elgin Baylor, truly one of the premier legends of the game.
By playing just three seasons for the Lakers and fulfilling his role to perfection, Jim McMillian deserves the praise of this high selection.
2. Trevor Ariza
Seasons With the Lakers: 2007-2009
Championship Season: 2009
Stats With LA: 8.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.7 apg, 0.3 bpg, 1.5 spg, 47% FG, 32% 3FG, 70% FT
Trevor Ariza started his career as somewhat of a journeyman. But his fourth season brought the biggest break in his career when he was traded to the Lakers.
During that 2007-2008 season, Ariza showed signs of the player he was to become with his defensive tenacity, quickness, athleticism and competitive drive.
Unfortunately for Ariza, a bone fracture in his right foot soon after the trade sidelined him from January until the middle of the Western Conference Finals. When he did return, Ariza was used sparingly for the rest of the playoffs.
Going up against the tough Boston Celtics in the Finals that year, the Lakers may have fared better had Ariza been healthy to help defend Finals MVP Paul Pierce and sharpshooter Ray Allen.
Nevertheless, Ariza redeemed himself the following season by working his way into the starting lineup, sporting a much-improved outside shot.
During the playoffs, Ariza improved his stock with his 21-point performance against the Utah Jazz in Game 1 of the first round. He also had two back-breaking steals late in two separate games against Denver in the Western Conference Finals that helped lead to Lakers wins.
Yet the highlight of his career thus far was in Game 4 of the NBA Finals against the Orlando Magic. After shooting 0-for-6 in the first half, Ariza helped lead Los Angeles back from a deficit by scoring 13 points in the third quarter, including several tough clutch shots.
Following that storybook season, Los Angeles would end up losing this fan favorite, as he played hardball with owner Jerry Buss in demanding an exorbitantly high salary in the offseason, causing the Lakers to sign Ron Artest for the same money they offered Ariza.
Ariza would go on to sign for the same salary the Lakers offered with the Houston Rockets, where Ariza would miss the playoffs. He would watch from afar as Ron Artest picked up a ring that could have been his.
But for playing basically one full-and-healthy season with the Lakers and making such a big contribution towards securing a championship, Ariza is one of the ultimate Lakers short-timers.
1. Bob McAdoo
Seasons With the Lakers: 1981-1985
Championship Seasons: 1982, 1985
Stats With LA: 12.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 0.9 apg, 0.8 bpg, 0.5 spg, 49% FG, 76% FT
Only one player could possibly top Trevor Ariza on this list, and that man is Bob McAdoo.
Before coming to the Lakers, McAdoo had won almost every accolade in the NBA. He put together three straight seasons leading the NBA in scoring. During the 1974-75 season, he was named the MVP with averages of 34.5 points per game and 14.1 rebounds per game.
McAdoo quickly became known for his outside shot, able to hit 15-to-20 footers better than most perimeter players. As one of the first big men in the NBA to play offense this way, he influenced future NBA hoopsters to follow his example, including Chris Webber, Rasheed Wallace and Kevin Garnett.
McAdoo had won nearly everything in his early career, except for that which mattered most—a championship.
After a few injury-plagued years bouncing around the league, McAdoo finally found himself in Los Angeles teamed with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and James Worthy. The Showtime team of the 1980s not only helped spread the popularity of the NBA but also could rival any of the top teams in history.
As a person who prided himself as one of the hardest working individuals in the league, Bob McAdoo established himself as a dominant sixth man during the middle of the Lakers' dynasty run of the 1980s.
Over the course of 61 playoff games, McAdoo raised his game as he helped lead the Lakers to four-straight Finals appearances with averages of 13.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg and 1.4 bpg. His outside shooting and scoring ability helped give the Lakers an extra weapon that few teams could counter.
Bob McAdoo trumps Trevor Ariza on this list because he won two championships and also helped bring LA to the championship round all four years he was with the team.