NBA

Eddie Jones Isn’t Given Enough Credit for His Role in Lakers History

In 14 seasons in the NBA, Eddie Jones played for five teams and averaged 14.8 points per game. He was a three-time NBA All-Star, a three-time All-Defensive selection (he led the NBA in steals in 2000), and a one-time All-NBA selection.

That’s a solid career, one that many people would certainly be envious of. Unfortunately, however, Jones never won an NBA championship. 11 of the 14 teams for which he played made it to the postseason, with Jones usually being a key piece in the puzzle. Four of those playoff appearances came with the Los Angeles Lakers, the team that drafted him 10th overall in the 1994 NBA draft out of Temple.

A pure shooting guard, Jones was the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year in his final season with the Owls, averaging 19 points per game while leading Temple to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. The Lakers were in a bit of trouble at the time, having just missed the postseason for the first time in nearly two decades. Then-general manager Jerry West wanted a pure athlete to bring some spark back to the organization and Jones was it. Over the next five years, whether anyone knew it or not, Jones played a crucial part in bringing LA back to prominence and doesn’t get nearly the credit he deserves in Lakers history.

Eddie Jones’ early days in LA

When the 1994-1995 NBA season began, the Showtime era in Los Angeles was officially over. Magic Johnson had left the NBA a couple of years earlier after contracting the HIV virus, Byron Scott had gone to the Indiana Pacers, and James Worthy had announced his retirement. The Lakers had missed the postseason for the first time since 1976 but there was a group of young guns ready to prove that the Lakers were still relevant. Nick Van Exel, who had been drafted the year before Eddie Jones, was developing nicely and the team had acquired Cedric Ceballos, who was coming off a career year with the Phoenix Suns.

Eddie Jones started 58 of the 64 games in which he played his rookie season, averaging 14 points on his way to making the All-Rookie First Team. The Lakers got back to the playoffs and pulled off an upset in the first round, defeating the Seattle Supersonics, and gave NBA MVP David Robinson and the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs all they could handle in round two before losing the series in six games. But Jones and the Lakers were making progress.

In year two, Jones was the full-time starter at shooting guard and performed well as the second option behind Ceballos. He also gained valuable knowledge from Magic Johnson, who returned to the NBA for a short time that season. The Lakers again went to the playoffs but lost in the first round to the back-to-back NBA champion Houston Rockets. That summer, however, proved to be one of the most important times in Lakers history. The team signed Shaquille O’Neal and traded for a high school phenom named Kobe Bryant, a shooting guard from Philadelphia. So where did Eddie Jones fit in this new-look puzzle?

Eddie Jones becomes an All-Star and mentors a young Kobe Bryant

While many believed that Kobe Bryant was the future of the Lakers, Eddie Jones was still the starting shooting guard when the 1996-1997 season began. He started all 80 of the games in which he played and enjoyed his best season to date. With Ceballos being traded back to the Suns, Jones was the second scoring option behind Shaq and averaged 17.2 points per game, earning his first All-Star selection. He earned a second straight trip to the All-Star Game in 1998, where he scored 15 points and pulled down 11 rebounds.

What often gets lost in the years that Eddie Jones became a star is the role he played in mentoring a young Kobe Bryant. Jones was mature beyond his years and it was he that taught Kobe how to adapt to the pro game. The two shared a Philadelphia connection as Jones had gone to Temple and Kobe played at Lower Merion High School and Jones was determined to make Bryant a better player, even if it meant that his job might soon be in jeopardy, which it obviously was.

Jones is inevitably shipped out of LA

When the lockout-shortened 1998-1999 season began, the Lakers’ starting lineup included both Eddie Jones and Kobe Bryant. Most knew it was only a matter of time before Jones was shipped out of LA and that came to fruition on March 10, 1999. Jones’ role had gotten smaller through the team’s first 20 games, with Bryant taking on more of the scoring load behind Shaquille O’Neal, and Jones was traded to the Charlotte Hornets in the deal that brought Glen Rice to the Lakers. In total, Jones played 314 games for the Lakers, starting 304 of them, and averaged 15.2 points per game.

While Eddie Jones enjoyed the best season of his NBA career with the Hornets in 1999-2000, earning a third All-Star nod averaging 20.1 points per game, he had to watch as Shaq and Kobe, the player he had mentored, win the first of three consecutive NBA championships with the Lakers. Jones joined his hometown team, the Miami Heat, the following season and also spent time with the Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks before retiring in 2008.

When looking back at the history of the Lakers, it’s easy to acknowledge the Mikan era, the Wilt-West era, the Showtime era, or the Shaq & Kobe era, which then just turned into the Kobe era. But it’s easy to forget about those teams that fill the gaps in between those eras, teams that include guys like Eddie Jones. Jones was a big part of the bridge between Showtime and Shaq & Kobe and it’s interesting to wonder if he could have won those titles with Shaq had Kobe not come around.

But Kobe did come around. But Eddie Jones was also right there to help him. Yes, maybe Kobe becomes Kobe no matter what but having a guy like Jones around did nothing but help him. There was no Hollywood ending for Eddie Jones in LA but he deserves a lot of credit for his place in Lakers history.