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What We Had Here Was a Failure to Talk : Lakers: Van Exel says he didn’t know he was supposed to be playing. Harris isn’t saying anything yet.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Lakers’ day after was just as confusing as the night before had been.

First, the Lakers passed off the Nick Van Exel-Del Harris conflict as nothing more than a misunderstanding that had been resolved. Then later, they admitted that the coach and point guard hadn’t yet talked to clear up any communication problems, or at least to synchronize their stories.

On Tuesday, Van Exel spoke about the side events during Monday’s 129-83 loss at Portland, saying he had never refused to play in the second half, as Harris had said.

The Lakers responded by saying that Van Exel would not be suspended, but left open the possibility of a fine after a meeting today with Executive Vice President Jerry West and General Manager Mitch Kupchak.

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Harris, meanwhile, refused to comment, saying he wanted to talk to Van Exel at today’s shoot-around in preparation for the game against Phoenix. That means the two will have gone from halftime Monday night until Wednesday afternoon without speaking, obviously choosing non-communication to clear up what they say was miscommunication.

“I’ll apologize to him and say I’m sorry,” Van Exel said. “It’s just a misunderstanding, and we need to go on from here. We’ve got a lot more basketball games and we can’t let this disrupt what we’ve got going.

“It was a lot of my fault what happened and I take full blame. It was pretty much a misunderstanding between me and Coach Del Harris. It will never happen again.”

What appeared to be a major crisis amid what had otherwise been a wildly successful early season started at halftime at Memorial Coliseum, after, and apparently unrelated to, Harris’ going “goofy” in the visitor’s locker room and throwing water and turning over a table. When the Lakers returned for the third quarter, Van Exel saw Tony Smith on the court, assumed he had been benched, and took a seat.

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He didn’t check with Harris to see if that was the case. Nor did Harris say anything to him. Apparently, when one of the assistant coaches told Van Exel he was supposed to be in the game, the second-year point guard did not think that word had come from Harris, so he ignored it.

The kicker was that Smith was supposed have been out for the start of the second half--but in place of Cedric Ceballos at small forward. Van Exel should have been there too.

So, if Van Exel never said anything to Harris, how did the coach get the impression he refused to play?

“Probably because I just sat down,” Van Exel said. “I have no idea. I thought I was supposed to start, so I sat down. I’m thinking I’m not starting. He’s thinking I am starting. That’s where the miscommunication came in.”

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It didn’t help that Van Exel, given an opportunity to defuse the situation, brushed past reporters and ignored their questions after the game. He said he was upset about the Lakers suffering their most lopsided loss in franchise history.

The bottom line, he added, is that it won’t happen again.

“The way we’re playing right now, if it did happen, it would be stupid,” Van Exel said. “I don’t think I would put myself in that situation again. I would go out and handle myself professionally.”

In another development Tuesday, veteran Lester Conner was, as expected, signed to a 10-day contract. He replaces Sedale Threatt, who is on the injured list because of a stress fracture in the right foot, but Harris said Smith will remain as the backup point guard.

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“It’s just insurance for right now,” Harris said of Conner’s arrival. “I don’t want to take any playing time away from the guys we already have. They’ve been waiting their chance.The guys we have will get the priority.”

Conner, 35, spent most of 1993-94 with the Indiana Pacers and this season was part of Magic Johnson’s touring team.


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