Candidate: Nick Van Exel.

Affiliation: The Forgive & Forget Party.

Platform statement: “They know players go through processes, and hopefully they can understand I went through a process and it’s over with and I’ve moved on.”

Endorsements: Several, the biggest coming from his coach, Del Harris: “I don’t know how his stats compare. I know without him, we’d be around .500, I suppose.”

No one ever said a grass-roots campaign is easy, but it’s especially difficult when the electorate has a history of using the ballot box as a hammer against bad citizenship and the candidate has never been anyone’s good guy. Until this season, that is, when Van Exel has not only arguably been the Lakers’ most valuable player, but has been as emotionally stable as he promised at the outset.


Next thing you know, he’s deserving of serious consideration to be selected by Western Conference coaches as a reserve for the All-Star game Feb. 8 in New York. And getting it.

“Absolutely,” Sacramento King Coach Eddie Jordan said. “He certainly should get some consideration. He’s a whole lot more mature and running the show. This team could not have gone as far, without Shaq [O’Neal], if he had not played the way he has. That’s the sign of an all-star.”

The actual sign--Van Exel’s being picked--will be determined at the end of the month. Fan voting for the starters will end Thursday and the results will be announced 10 days later, on Super Bowl Sunday. Ballots then go to coaches, who will pick two guards, two forwards, one center and two players regardless of position as reserves for their respective conferences. Those are due back the next day.

If all 14 coaches, unable to vote for players on their own teams, respond on time, those results will be announced Jan. 27. If some don’t, which has been known to happen, the outcome will be released the next day.

In the meantime, Van Exel, though having declared making the all-star team as his major personal goal, won’t get his hopes too high.

“The way this league is run . . . “ he said, laughing.

“When I’m there and I’m walking down the tunnel and I’ve got on the all-star uniform, then, that’s when I’ll be excited. Until that happens, it means nothing, really.”


The way this league is run. Code for, “Wonder if some coaches keep the past too present?”

“I’m sure they do,” Van Exel said. “But once they see a player maturing and developing, that’s what it’s all about.”

They see that. Strange, but history could now come back to help him, as the contrast to show the strides that have been made.

“All-star time comes, you’re going for one game, you’re going for what you’ve done on the floor,” Clipper Coach Bill Fitch said. “It should be considered, but I don’t think he has any marks on him that should keep him out. I’d say I’m probably as aware of the importance of character and teamwork and things like that as anybody. I look at him as a guy who’s gotten in trouble because he’s such a fierce competitor. That’s a stage some guys go through.

“I’d say [his chances] are very good. I voted for him last year. I’d say he’s having just as good a year to this point, or better.”

Said Dallas Maverick Coach Don Nelson, another who said he will give Van Exel serious consideration, “I’m a big fan of his. I love what he’s doing this year, forsaking some of his offense for the sake of the team. He’s chosen his spots.”

But he’s still not in the clear. Van Exel faces other obstacles, some even from his teammates.


His pluses:

* He is the quarterback for the team with the second-best record in the league.

* He went into Monday’s games first in the league in three-point shots made, fifth among Western guards and 11th overall in assists, and seventh among Western guards and 12th overall in three-point percentage.

* He brought emotional stability during the franchise-record 11-0 start and during the six weeks the Lakers were without their best player, O’Neal. He brought stability with the ball, having led the league in assists-to-turnovers ratio for most of the season.

* He has improved on defense.

* He is making a push as the time nears for the ballots to be sent out, having averaged 15.3 points and 10.2 assists the last 11 games.

His minuses:

* He still has an image to live down.

“The jury is still out,” Sacramento’s Jordan said. “How long will he be able to keep his poise and composure? He certainly has shown it so far this year, though.”

* He is shooting 42.3%. Still, Phoenix’s Jason Kidd is a strong candidate despite a 38.2% mark.

* He has too many good teammates. If fan voting had ended last week, Eddie Jones would be a starter and O’Neal would have finished second to David Robinson and then been picked by coaches. Would the same coaches go for having three players representing a team that could be in second place? And, considering Jones’ likely inclusion by either means, would they go for sending the Laker backcourt intact?


“It’s only natural to think that way,” Jordan said. “You don’t want one team to monopolize the roster.”

Counters Nelson: “I don’t feel that way. I can only speak for myself, though.”

In the end, it could come down to a choice between Van Exel and Minnesota’s Stephon Marbury, under the assumption that fan voting will remain constant and Gary Payton and Jones are selected to start, that Mitch Richmond is an automatic and that Kidd deserves to go.

Whether that leaves one spot or two for a guard depends on how many forwards the coaches go for.

And whether that, in turn, means John Stockton gets serious consideration must also be taken into account. The he’s-been-hurt argument cannot, in itself, eliminate Stockton--he has played three more games than O’Neal.

What’s a guy to do?

The voters ponder and Van Exel waits, dreaming of what could be, but knowing the process all too well. It’s as the candidate said:

“It just depends on, I guess, the way coaches feel that day when they vote.”


Guard Watch


Player G Min FG% Ast TO Stl Pts Rec. Clyde Drexler 30 34.9 43.6 5.7 2.4 1.77 19.0 17-15 Eddie Jones 36 36.2 49.7 2.9 1.9 2.36 18.1 27-9 Jason Kidd 32 38.1 38.2 9.2 3.7 2.44 10.3 22-10 Stephon Marbury 34 38.1 42.0 8.4 3.3 1.47 18.6 18-16 Gary Payton 36 37.9 45.1 9.1 2.9 2.58 18.9 29-7 Mitch Richmond 36 36.6 42.6 4.0 2.9 1.33 22.3 15-21 John Stockton 16 26.4 57.3 7.1 2.5 1.25 11.9 23-11 Nick Van Exel 36 33.8 42.3 7.9 1.7 .92 15.3 27-9



Note: Starters will be selected by fan balloting, three or four reserves by vote of conference coaches.