Lakers Move Closer to Signing Kareem for a Year or 2 More

Times Staff Writer

The Lakers are apparently moving closer to signing 38-year-old center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to a contract for one more season after the coming one--and possibly two.

Abdul-Jabbar, who will turn 39 during the next playoffs, is under a one-year contract to play this season (1985-86) for a salary of $2 million.

The center said Friday at the team’s media day, however, that his agent, Tom Collins, and Laker General Manager Jerry West have been in close contact about a new contract, which Abdul-Jabbar would prefer to sign before the National Basketball Assn. season begins on Oct. 26.

Ted Steinberg, who is Abdul-Jabbar’s attorney and works with Collins, said Abdul-Jabbar told him last week that he did not want to go through retirement ceremonies when the Lakers visit the other NBA cities this season.

“We’re keeping the option open of playing next year (1986-87), but that doesn’t necessarily mean he wants to play,” Steinberg said.


But Steinberg also expressed optimism that a new contract for Abdul-Jabbar could be worked out.

“I think it’s a very doable deal,” he said. “Of course, once we start talking numbers, it might be a different story.”

West said that the Lakers had been waiting for Abdul-Jabbar to express a desire to continue playing before going much further with contract talks.

“We’re hopeful we can sign a future contract with him,” West said. “There’s no question that physically he can play another year after this one. It could even be a multiyear agreement.”

This is the second time in less than a year that Abdul-Jabbar has put off his possible retirement. He said in training camp a year ago that he might change his mind about retiring after last season, as he had previously planned to do.

Then in early December, the Lakers signed Abdul-Jabbar to a $2-million one-year contract for this season. Abdul-Jabbar has refused to speculate whether he will retire when he has fulfilled this contract.

He said, however, that opposing teams should not plan retirement ceremonies for him when the Lakers are in each town this season, as they did last year.

“That would not be wise at this point,” he said.

Abdul-Jabbar, the leading scorer in the history of the NBA and the league’s only six-time Most Valuable Player, will soon set another record by playing an unprecedented 17th season. He said he probably would decide soon whether his career will last beyond that.

“I can do it physically, but I don’t know if I’m ready for another grind,” he said. “I might be. I’ll have everything settled in my mind before the start of the season. I’ll see what they are talking about.”

The discussions will obviously center on money. Abdul-Jabbar got a $500,000 raise, up from $1.5 million, to play this season, and he might expect a similar salary increase for any additional year.

West said that the Lakers may not offer Abdul-Jabbar that much.

“I think what he’s making this year would be a pretty good offer,” West said. “He’s been treated very, very fairly by this organization.”

Laker owner Jerry Buss said he would not try to persuade Abdul-Jabbar to play another season, but added that he would let Abdul-Jabbar know that he is welcome.

“We won’t try to make up his mind for him, because only Kareem can do that,” Buss said. “But we plan to create a positive environment for discussions if he decides he wants to continue playing.”

Abdul-Jabbar led the Lakers to the NBA title last season and was chosen the MVP in the Lakers’ six-game championship series victory over the Boston Celtics. Abdul-Jabbar’s regular-season statistics improved in nearly every category from the previous year.

He averaged 22 points, his best figure since 1981-82, and shot 59.9%, the second-best mark in his career. He scored 30 or more points 14 times, led the Lakers in scoring for the 10th straight season and also led the team in rebounding with a 7.9 average.

The Lakers do not appear concerned about spending at least $2 million, possibly more, for the aging Abdul-Jabbar. If he signs for an additional year, he will be 40 during the playoffs in the spring of 1987.

“He’s as good as or better than I can remember,” said Dr. Robert Kerlan, the Laker team physician.

Laker Coach Pat Riley had another impression of Abdul-Jabbar: “He’s hidden the Fountain of Youth in his stereo somewhere.”

Abdul-Jabbar was the only Laker to start each of the first 75 games last season before missing one because of the flu. He also missed the last two games to get ready for the playoffs. He played 2,630 minutes, more than in either of his previous two seasons.

Kerlan saw Abdul-Jabbar recently after a full physical examination at the National Athletic Health Institute, where doctors tested the center’s muscle strength and flexibility.

“I’m constantly amazed that he shows no signs at all of getting older,” Kerlan said. “You’d think he would show some evidence of a breakdown from the wear and tear, but he doesn’t show anything.

“He doesn’t examine any different than a guy 29 or 30, the time when an athlete reaches physical maturity. I couldn’t distinguish him from that group.”

Abdul-Jabbar, who trained during the off-season by using a weighted jump rope, also spends much of his time doing yoga and stretching exercises.

During training camp and the exhibition season and after he hears what the Lakers would pay him, Abdul-Jabbar said he will make up his mind for good.

“I’ll see how well I play,” he said. “It should be obvious to everyone. If I can play well, I’ll stick around.”

Even if Abdul-Jabbar does agree to a new contract, he will always have the option of retiring before the contracts runs out, Riley pointed out.

“The contract does not guarantee that he will play,” Riley said. “But I think he can play as long as he wants, depending on his health.”

Laker Notes Free agent Larry Spriggs has told the Lakers, through agent Fred Slaughter, that he is seeking an offer sheet from another team, General Manager Jerry West said. “I hate to see it,” Laker Coach Pat Riley said. . . . West also said that the Lakers plan to use the maximum of 15 days before responding to the offer sheet that former Laker center Swen Nater signed with the Clippers. . . . The Lakers will have 15 players beginning two-a-day practices today at Palm Desert, among them Maurice Lucas and three draft choices: 6-9 first-round choice A.C. Green of Oregon State, 6-2 fourth-round choice Dexter Shouse of South Alabama and 6-6 sixth-round choice Tony Neal of Cal State Fullerton.