Rambis to Sign Four-Year Contract With Charlotte

Times Staff Writer

It's not that Kurt Rambis had a seven-year itch. But after agreeing to sign a 4-year, $2.4-million contract with the expansion Charlotte (N.C.) Hornets Wednesday, ending his seven-year term as a Laker, the free-agent power forward called it a "perfect divorce."

"There's absolutely no spilt milk," Rambis said Wednesday night at a high school in North Hollywood where he was filming an instructional video.

"They (the Lakers) made what they feel is a solid business decision, and that's what I did, too. I have nothing bad to say about anybody in the organization. It's the perfect divorce."

Rambis, 30, acknowledged that it will be a big change, going from a team that won four championships while he was there to a team that in all probability won't make the playoffs in the foreseeable future.

"But I think it's a good change," he said. "My situation with the Lakers was only going to get worse, in terms of playing time, worse and more frustrating for me as a player."

With Charlotte, he goes into training camp as the team's starting power forward, a role he held for 4 1/2 seasons with the Lakers before relinquishing the position to A.C. Green. By the end of the recently concluded playoffs, Rambis was making only cameo appearances for the Lakers.

"I like to work," he said. "I don't like receiving money when I'm not working, and that's kind of what I was doing.

"I don't expect to be given anything. I plan to go there this fall as another rookie on a good ballclub and earn my position."

Rambis' agent, Peter Johnson, approached the Lakers after the season to see if they'd be interested in signing Rambis to a 3-year, $1.8-million deal, but the Lakers--who paid him $525,000 last season--wanted no part of it. Enter the Hornets, who are so anxious for front-court help that they've interviewed 39-year-old Artis Gilmore and the troubled Darryl Dawkins in the last two days.

As much as Rambis enjoyed winning, he relishes the chance to play regularly again.

"I've got the championship rings," he said, "but I'm not playing anymore. That's what I'm after now, getting back to playing a lot. I enjoy the game . . . I want to be playing basketball when I'm 50 years old."

As frustrated as he was due to his handling by Coach Pat Riley--"It wasn't a lack of ability, it was a coaching decision . . . he's been juggling me ever since I came on the team"--Rambis said he made a conscious decision to keep his dissatisfaction to himself.

"I could have been a nagger, a bitcher, a complainer," Rambis said, "but that would have destroyed the chemistry of the team. I could have done enough to make being around the Lakers a nightmare, if I wanted to.

"But I chose not to. I decided to keep my head high and take advantage of the playing time I was given. Sure, I was frustrated, but I wasn't going to do anything to disrupt the team."

Besides, he noted wryly, the team was winning. "When a team is winning," he said, "how can you complain about playing time?"

But have the Lakers made a mistake in letting go of Rambis, who earned the admiration of teammates and the devoted following of fans for his hustling, reckless style of play?

"One injury will tell," he said. "That's all it's going to take. To win back-to-back championships, we were very fortunate not to have a major injury. And we had a stacked bench.

"But what if A.C. goes down, Mychal Thompson goes down, unless they get a big guy to replace me? But if they don't (get hurt), they've got as good a shot as anybody of winning."

Several of Rambis' teammates--Byron Scott, James Worthy, Michael Cooper and Thompson--also participated in the filming of the video in the last couple of days. Their reaction to Rambis' departure?

"We're friends--that's the way it stands," Rambis said. "They understand my decision perfectly. We've been through a lot of good times and bad times together . . . there were no tears, anything at all, they were just joking about it."

Rambis grinned when the length of the contract, which will take him to the age of 34, was mentioned.

"I should be able to play that long," he said. "I've been resting for the last two years."

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