Funny Things May Happen on Way Out of Forum

Everybody smile for the group picture: Everything is OK again with the Lakers, or so they're about to tell you.

Jerry West is staying and might even consider signing a new contract next summer (he won't know until he gets to that point and sees how he feels, etc.). He still loves Jerry Buss, who loves him back (but may say nothing, having managed to stay out of sight this long). Del Harris will be back (he was never worried despite the hysteria in the press, etc.).

Then there's the real story: All they've done is patch things up so they can get through the season.

West will finish the last year on his contract as head of the basketball operation because Buss has agreed to pay him the balance of a deferred bonus, thought to be about $2 million. Then West will be a free agent.

Buss wanted to sign him to an extension in return for giving him the $2 million, but, according to sources, with only a modest raise. West makes $1.25 million, so let's say the new deal would have paid $1.5 million to $1.75 million a year.

West is determined not to hire out cheaply again, even if all of his underwear is purple and gold, not with the prospect of Donald T. Sterling giving him 5% of the Clippers and a $5-million salary.

Nor is everything back to snuggly. Buss took his time getting back to West after their June 2 meeting, during which time, friends say, West broke his personal record for head shakes and eye rolls. West was finally told he'd get the $2 million last week--not by Buss but by one of the owner's financial people.

Having at least established who will be running the organization next season, the Lakers have begun reconfiguring the team.

Harris is coming back, although no word so far on whether they'll do the right thing and extend him for a season, or whether money is so tight, they'll see how it goes with a white-thatched lame duck.

Having made the same mistakes over and over, they'd like to try making some new ones, or in other words, does anyone want Nick Van Exel? They may move him even if they can't get a point guard back. They're considering starting Kobe Bryant and Eddie Jones, which would certainly be exciting, one way or the other.

In keeping with the new fiscally responsible motif, Elden Campbell, his intermittent biorhythms and $7-million salary are ticketed for elsewhere.

If they can get a real power forward, their faux four, Robert Horry and his $5-million-a-year will be outward bound too.

Of course, the Lakers still have a lot to work with and may have learned some hard lessons, so this could work out.

Of course, the first time they win two in a row, everyone will jump on the bandwagon (if they get to 10, I'll join in, I've done it before, I can do it again).

Of course, if they lose two in a row in exhibition season, the media will start speculating about Delmer, and if they get to five, Buss may pull the plug (he almost did it before, he could do it again.)

Stability? No, but then, these are the '90s: Who has any of that? The greatest dynasty we've seen in 30 years has dominated while fighting a civil war at the same time.

The real tip-off on the Laker situation will come soon, when they try to sign Bryant to an extension. Under the old regime--before West got upset--it would have been easy. They would have offered a king's ransom, say $100 million for six seasons, and he'd have signed, because he likes it here.

Now all bets are off. If Bryant signs, it will mean West has assured Kobe's agent, and Jerry's friend, Arn Tellem, everything is cool and he'll be staying on.

If West tells Tellem he doesn't know, Bryant and Tellem will, in all likelihood, tell the Lakers they'll wait until next summer to see how this plays out.

So next summer, Bryant, West and Shaquille O'Neal can become free agents. Get it? The Lakers will be like the Bulls this season, without the five titles.

Laker fans, better get your rest this summer and come ready in the fall, because winter and spring could be something.

FACES AND FIGURES

Brandishing their labor militancy like troops waving their swords as they rush toward the lip of a canyon, the members of the U.S. World Championship team refused USA Basketball's demand that they reaffirm that they're going before July 1, the expected lockout date. USA Basketball is prepared to drop them and may do so soon. The pros--Chris Webber, Grant Hill, Terrell Brandon, Gary Payton, et al.--would be replaced by the Goodwill Games team, which is mostly made up of promising but young collegians such as Duke's Elton Brand, Connecticut's Khalid El-Amin and Georgia Tech's Dion Glover. Bottom line: The U.S. could lose--and the boycotting players, and their sponsoring union, could be vilified. . . . On the other hand, they're not really traitors if they can help us: The Lakers are interested in Webber, who's more or less with the Kings, having informed them he doesn't seem himself as a Sacramento kind of guy. . . . Other Laker power forward possibilities include Derrick Coleman and Horace Grant. Other possibilities hopefully don't include Dennis Rodman, who has been unable to distract the veteran, focused Bulls but could blow the young Lakers to smithereens.

The Rockets are making a big push to sign Kevin Johnson, which would reunite KJ with his least favorite teammate of the '90s, Charles Barkley. "I'm better friends with Kevin than when I played with him," Barkley says. "I'd love to have him here." KJ would be the perfect Rocket. At age 32, he'd automatically make them younger--and he's hurt all the time! . . . The Rockets are also considering signing free agent Cedric Ceballos, putting the nucleus of that old Sun team together again. Maybe they can restage that famous postseason party that angered President Jerry Colangelo so much he traded Oliver Miller and wound up playing the next season without a center.

Don't pencil in Mike Bibby for the Clippers at No. 1 just yet: They're considering trading down if they can get a center--Michael Olowokandi?--and a starting point guard. . . . Moving up in the draft as they work out for teams: Larry Hughes, who could crash the top five; Robert Traylor; Michael Doleac, who could get into the top 10; and Michael Dickerson and Bryce Drew, who are expected to go in the teens. One general manager said of Drew, the sharpshooter from Valparaiso: "He has a chance to be pretty damn good. He did things that shocked me. You've got to guard him all over the court." . . . Sliding as the process continues: Antawn Jamison (he was slotted at No. 5, Golden State, before he was measured at 6-7 3/4 at the Chicago camp, down from his listed 6-9 at North Carolina) and Raef LaFrentz.

Philadelphia Phillie Manager Terry Francona, who was running the Birmingham Barons when Michael Jordan was there in 1994: "He did not fail in baseball. The fact that he hit .200 was amazing. The last time he had played baseball, he was 18 and at that point, he was what, 31? He had over 30 steals and scored 50 runs. People don't realize how amazing that was." On the other hand, what was the future for a base-stealing .200-hitting-in-Double-A pop icon? . . . Phil Jackson, on his superstition of wearing the preceding season's championship ring in the playoffs: "It weighs about a pound. You can't clap your hands or try to touch anybody on the head. It's like a weapon almost. And it gets caught in everything. It takes about three weeks to finally adjust to wearing it."

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