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The Heat Is on Lucas : Laker Is No Longer a Favorite Sun in Phoenix as He Returns With New Team

Times Staff Writer

Maurice Lucas has returned to the Valley of the Sun, but there is a shadow following him.

When the Lakers play the Phoenix Suns tonight, it will mark the first regular-season appearance of Lucas against his former team. After three years with the Suns, Lucas ended last season by telling Phoenix General Manager Jerry Colangelo he did not want to be around for a fourth.

That was fine with Colangelo, who said he understood Lucas’ wish not to be part of the Suns’ rebuilding program this season, but it apparently has not gone over so well with one of Colangelo’s peers.

San Antonio Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons lashed out at Lucas for influencing his trade.

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“I find it highly objectionable that a player can pick where he wants to play,” Fitzsimmons said. “I understand what he did, but I don’t agree with it.

“Players can’t be choosing what team they will play for. Look at what Bob McAdoo did. You think he put out for Boston, Detroit and New Jersey, the last three teams he played for, just to wind up with the Lakers? He got what he wanted, though. So did Lucas.”

Lucas does not deny that he is playing for the team he wanted to when he told Colangelo he would like to leave.

“They didn’t exactly kick me out of town,” Lucas said. “There were only two teams I really wanted to go to, and I’m playing for one of them.”

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Lucas is fully capable of defending himself. Oddly, perhaps, Colangelo also spoke in Lucas’ defense.

Colangelo said that Lucas could have wound up with the Celtics, instead of the Lakers, but that since Boston had salary cap problems, Lucas would have been forced to accept less money.

The Lakers also had salary cap troubles, but under the rules, they were able to designate Lucas as a replacement for McAdoo’s contract, which gave Lucas more money than the Celtics could come up with. That made the Lakers much more attractive.

Colangelo said that Lucas didn’t actually pick the team to which he would be traded, although it does appear as though that is what happened.

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“If I could have gotten a better deal with Cleveland, then Lucas would have gone to Cleveland,” Colangelo said. “It just so happened that the only teams who expressed any interest in Lucas were the Lakers and Boston. It wasn’t a matter of him selecting.”

Since the Suns were in the playoffs in each of Lucas’ three seasons, Colangelo said he is convinced that Lucas never played down to a lower level just so he could be traded.

“It’s not like we were a schlock team,” Colangelo said. “I understand there are people in this league who believe that certain players sometimes put it in neutral and don’t perform up to their capabilities. Putting Lucas in that group is incorrect, in my opinion.

“If you are accepting as fact that a player dogged it and then plays better with his new team, you also have to consider the other possibility that the player is simply rejuvenated.”

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Colangelo said he has watched with interest as Lucas plays for the Lakers. The Suns parted amicably with Lucas, Colangelo said, but the general manager nevertheless pointed a barb in the player’s direction.

“He’s lost some weight, which he could have done with us, but obviously he didn’t feel it was necessary,” Colangelo said. “I do think the fans will give him a nice reception, though.”

For his part, Lucas has chosen to downplay his return to Veterans Coliseum as a Suns’ opponent.

“I haven’t really thought much about it, but I’m sure I will around game time,” he said, then added his own barb to match Colangelo’s.

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“I’ll show up to kick some tails,” he said.

Laker Notes Magic Johnson, who was examined by a doctor Wednesday in Los Angeles, has shown improvement from his case of shingles that have caused him to miss the Lakers’ first two games. Although there have been no complications to his illness, the Lakers are not sure when Johnson might play again. It is unlikely that he will be in uniform against the Suns, but the Lakers say his return is on a day-to-day basis, so there is a chance he might play Saturday night in Oakland against Golden State. . . . Injury update: Mitch Kupchak played at Dallas with a strained rotator cuff in his right shoulder, but he should be OK tonight. Chuck Nevitt needed stitches to close a cut above his eye at practice Wednesday, but he is not expected to miss the game. . . . The newest Suns’ player, 6-foot 8-inch Georgi Glouchkov, arrived in town late Wednesday night from Sofia, Bulgaria. Glouchkov, the only foreigner ever signed by an NBA team although there are several foreign-born NBA players, speaks only a few words of English. Glouchkov is not yet on the Suns’ roster and will not be in uniform for tonight’s game.


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