The Men who Led the Lakers
Randy Pfund (1992-94)
RANDY PFUND (1992-94)
Before we get to Pfund's tenure as Lakers head coach, we can trace his L.A. roots to the early 1980's, when he formed a connection through Bill Bertka. Bertka had greatly admired Pfund's father -- who coached most notably at Wheaton College -- and had hired Randy to work for his Bertka Views scouting service once Pfund moved to Santa Barbara to coach at Westmont College. Soon after, Pfund was recommended to Riley as a replacement for the departed Dave Wohl, hired originally to scout Laker opponents. Bertka recalls that Pfund moved onto Riley's bench full time prior to the 1988-89 season, and remained an assistant alongside Bertka when Mike Dunleavy took over for Riley in 1990.
After a run to the 1991 NBA Finals, resulting in a 4-1 loss to Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls, Magic Johnson's abrupt retirement at the start of Dunleavy's second season not only made for a difficult year in Lakerland, but had a lasting impact in subsequent seasons as the team searched for a new identity. It was under that constuct that Pfund was promoted to the head chair by GM Jerry West and owner Dr. Jerry Buss.
"Randy was a guy who paid his dues as a scout and a coach, came up through the ranks and deserved the opportunity," said Bertka. "He was an outstanding athlete himself, which is always helpful, and the son of an outstanding college coach. This gave him good credentials coming in, but the organization had a lot of adversity at the time and it wasn't easy."
Showtime holdovers James Worthy and Byron Scott remained, along with leading bigs Sam Perkins, Vlade Divac and A.C. Green, but it was an aging group.
"It was a very difficult time," Bertka continued. "We were in a downhill spiral with changes at that time, and Jerry West pointed out that it was going to be a very difficult challenge for Randy. Not only had Magic left, but they would move Sam Perkins*, and when they let him go it was a real blow to our success."
*Perkins was traded to Seattle 49 games into the season for Doug Christie.
With Perkins gone, L.A. limped into the playoffs by winning only six of their final 20 games, with the team ranking only 17th in the NBA in scoring (led by Sedale Threatt's 15.1 average). Pfund's squad did manage to upset heavily favored Phoenix in consecutive road games to start their first round matchup, but lost three straight games to bow out of the postseason.
A progressive coach and good basketball mind, Pfund liked his teams to run and capitalize on mismatches, but he struggled to employ those tactics with the 1993-94 roster, which featured Divac, Nick Van Exel, Anthony Peeler, Threatt and Elden Campbell. With the team at 27-37 late in the season during a road trip, Pfund got a phone call from West, informing him that his Lakers coaching career was over, along with assistant Chet Kammerer.
"Obviously we weren't doing well, and management was concerned with the direction we were going," said Bertka. "So Jerry called me and let me know I had to coach the games on the road, and we lost to Houston as Hakeem Olajuwon went off against us down the stretch, but we came back in the final minute and won in Dallas. It was rewarding for me to bring at least that one win back. When I got home, that's when they announced that Magic Johnson was taking over."
And so began Johnson's short coaching career, which began with five wins in six games thanks to some renewed energy, but ended in disaster, the Lakers losing 10 straight games to close the season. Pfund (27-37), Bertka (1-1) and Magic (5-11) combined for a 33-49 finish, one of only five times in franchise history (1958, 1975, 1976, 1994, 2005) that the Lakers did not make the playoffs.
LAKERS COACHING RECORD:
Regular Season: 66-80 (.452)
Playoffs: 2-3 (.400)
Total: 68-83 (.450)