Fox Hunt Finally Over for Lakers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Cleveland Cavaliers offered millions and millions of dollars more. The Philadelphia 76ers offered the possibility of a similar windfall in a year, though it surely would have meant waiting out another lottery season to get it. The Atlanta Hawks offered a starting spot. The New York Knicks offered the chance to go deep in the playoffs and, like the others, the chance to stay in the East.

And then there were the Lakers. Unable to guarantee any of the above, they still managed to put on the table for Rick Fox something that turned out to be a great lure.

Their reputation.

Fox, foregoing immediate financial security and a stated desire to remain close to family and friends, said Tuesday he will sign a free-agent deal with the Lakers, ending nearly two months of hopeful waiting around the Forum even if it doesn't end the process.

So secure is Fox in the choice that it came without the sides agreeing to a contract, although there isn't really any negotiating to be done. The veteran small forward, who has spent all six seasons of his pro career with the Boston Celtics, will take either a one-year, $1-million deal or the two-year, $2.15-million offer that has long been on the table and make the move official after coming to town tonight or Thursday. It's his choice.

Either way, Fox comes to Los Angeles looking at a long-term relationship, just one that starts without financial security because of the Lakers' salary-cap limitations and against the contrast of the Cavaliers dangling a four-year package worth $20 million. The uncertainty comes because of the equally unstable future of the current collective bargaining agreement, which does not make the one-year deal more prudent now but may in the long run.

It's the history of the Lakers that allows Fox to feel comfortable with the situation either way. Coach Del Harris has told him of the strong possibility, but not automatic move, of starting at small forward in a lineup that would put Robert Horry at power forward and Elden Campbell in a reserve role, but Fox knows history is a definite. He knows that owner Jerry Buss has always paid well to retain free agents who perform.

"Not to denigrate other organizations," said Bill Strickland, Fox's agent. "The Hawks and the Knicks and the others have class attitudes. But yes . . . The Lakers have a reputation of being very fair with their players as long as they win, and Rick is certainly going out there with the expectations of being part of a winner."

Even if it took weeks of calls from Laker management and others from Shaquille O'Neal and Magic Johnson to help him make the move after having spent his entire life on the East Coast. His North Carolina coach, Dean Smith, even phoned to note that Tobacco Road also intersects at Manchester and Prairie with the presence of fellow Tar Heel Mitch Kupchak, the general manager, and that James Worthy, Sam Perkins and George Lynch have also passed through with positive feedback. Of course, Smith also spoke up on behalf of Larry Brown, the new coach of the 76ers.

Pardon Jerome Kersey for not joining the Lakers in celebration. The arrival of Fox severely damages the chances they will re-sign him, what with Horry and Fox both able to play the position full time and Eddie Jones and Kobe Bryant having proven themselves in the small lineup. That's also where James Forrest will get his minutes if he makes the team.

The roster for a team whose depth came into question with the loss of Travis Knight and the allowed departure of Byron Scott, two key reserves last season, should continue to come into focus. The Lakers could announce as soon as today the signing of free agent Jon Barry, a versatile guard who played last season with the Atlanta Hawks. He is the brother of the Clippers' Brent.

Barry, a shooting guard who can also play the point, would all but finalize the Laker backcourt, making second-round pick DeJuan Wheat even more of a longshot stick. Other signings for the minimum are possible.

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Fox at a Glance

A 6-foot-7, 250-pounder who was born in Toronto and grew up in the Bahamas, Fox averaged 15.4 points and 5.2 rebounds last season for the Celtics and finished fifth in the league in steals, one spot behind new teammate Eddie Jones. He was then renounced, along with several others, when Boston signed Travis Knight from the Lakers. Fox has three-point range that must be respected and enough strength to work inside.

A look at Rick Fox's numbers with Boston:

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Year G FG% FT% Reb Ast Pts 1991-92 81 .459 .755 2.7 1.6 8.0 1992-93 71 .484 .802 2.2 1.6 6.4 1993-94 82 .467 .757 4.3 2.6 10.8 1994-95 53 .481 .772 2.9 2.6 8.8 1995-96 81 .454 .772 5.6 4.6 14.0 1996-97 76 .456 .787 5.2 3.8 15.4

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