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These Aren’t Your Father’s Lakers--or Your Brother’s

In keeping with recent events, we’d like to suggest a new Laker logo:

A player with a floppy hat, boa, sunglasses and nose rings, standing astride a fallen coach, over the words:

“Be careful what you wish for. . . .”

Much as I’d like to take credit for it, the motto came from a Laker last week, sometime between Dennis Rodman’s arrival, Del Harris’ departure and Kurt Rambis’ promotion.

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These were only the official transactions. At midweek, the Laker network came alive with the hot flash Jerry West was resigning, although he didn’t. As one friend noted, “Jerry has thought about quitting every day of his life,” but added West looked “as low as I’ve ever seen him.”

The Lakers are way past “turbulent,” into “management riot.” Harris didn’t lose this team. Management blew it up under him.

If the young Laker stars have growing up to do, it’s OK; they’re 26 and 20. Management, however, is older and used to know better.

Something dysfunctional has crept into what was once a model front office. The Lakers were assembled according to Jerry Buss’ vision, but West ran them. Now it’s a committee, with the owner confirming some West decisions, rejecting others and deferring action on many of them . . . like Harris.

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Of course, by his admission, Buss isn’t into day-to-day stuff, or as he told reporters last week, “You guys follow it much more closely than I do.”

This is how you know you’ve got trouble, when the man in charge tells reporters they know more about what’s going on than he does.

West wanted Harris’ situation resolved last summer. Reports of Buss’ impatience had gored Del, and his players were timing him with stopwatches. Their complaints rose to West, as if on the wings of angels, or agents. Behind the scenes, everyone knew who Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant wanted: Rambis.

Shaq isn’t merely impatient to win a title, he’s desperate, because he’s up to here with the guys on “SportsCenter” bringing up his quote about winning on every level, except college and the pros.

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Kobe was 18 when Harris got him, fresh out of Lower Merion High, expecting to play a lot.

This is actually a developmental step: Young stars bristle at coach. Coach is dumped. Stars must now deliver, having used up their coach excuse.

Not that it’ll be as simple for the New Rambis Youth as when Magic Johnson unhorsed Paul Westhead, and they blew everyone away under unheralded Pat Riley.

The Glen Rice deal, which would send Eddie Jones and Elden Campbell to Charlotte and Robert Horry to the bench alongside another projected starter, Rick Fox, is still pending. In other words, the other shoe is about to fall on half the eight-man rotation.

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They have to learn to live with Rodman, or alongside him, or whatever.

Dennis, being Dennis (remember, Buss said he could), tiptoed into their bosom, announcing, “I mean . . . you have to know the game of basketball and these guys right now don’t know the game of basketball.”

This is how you know you’ve really got trouble, when Dennis is the one making sense.

The Lakers don’t need a new coach, a rebounder or a dead-eye shooter as much as a complete attitude adjustment.

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They can’t run because they don’t defend. They make excuses.

Their approach could be encapsuled by that group bunny-hop they do before games. The Showtime Lakers came out hard-eyed and mean, all business. The Lake Show is in the hall, jumping up and down and laughing.

There was a difference in Friday’s intracity scrimmage, as Rodman broke in impressively for a 37-year-old guy, fresh from the floor of the Hard Rock Casino, where the amenities don’t include exercise bikes.

Talk about your best behavior: He was almost on time, left the basket to guard his man and appeared on the postgame TV show, all rarities.

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We’ll see how long that lasts, but in a short season, they could get away with it. In nine weeks, Rodman will barely have time to get in shape before the playoffs, when he breaks out his really outrageous stuff. (What, it gets worse? Yes.)

But it isn’t the final test. What have they gained if they win a title and Rodman blows them up next season? This is the NBA’s most talented young team. It shouldn’t have been put at risk to win one title, but built carefully to win many.

Of course, it’ll take stability up top. At week’s end, Buss actually talked to West about where they were, assuring him he’s still in charge.

“They had a hiccup in their relationship, but now it’s better,” said a source. “Jerry Buss realizes he needs Jerry West.”

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Friends say West was relieved but, emerging shakily from a February he won’t forget, not quite giddy. In the front office, they should get a campaign ribbon for this month.

FACES AND FIGURES

At least Rodman is never far from David Stern’s mind. Said the commissioner in Toronto for the first game in the Air Canada Centre: “As we were driving into the city from the airport, I thought of Dennis. We passed a billboard for an Internet on-line shopping site that had the slogan, ‘Shop Naked,’ and Dennis came to mind immediately.” . . . Kids: Boston’s Antoine Walker and Kenny Anderson argued on the floor, Walker yelling to the bench, “I can’t play with him if he’s like that.” Anderson told Walker to move if he wanted the ball, after which Coach Rick Pitino yelled, “The next guy who opens his mouth is getting suspended for a week!” Said Pitino: “I went home dejected over it. I turned on the television to ESPN News later on and I was half sleeping when I heard about players yelling at each other. I got up and said, darn it, I wish it would go away. But it wasn’t us. It was the Lakers. It was Olden Polynice talking about the Lakers.” . . . Add rookie race: Toronto’s Vince Carter threw down a two-handed reverse dunk at Indiana that had people buzzing days later. “If it gets to the point where he sticks that 18-footer, I don’t know if you can stop him,” Larry Bird said. . . . Nick Van Exel, who called Harris “a cancer,” said after the firing, “Well, Jerry West isn’t stupid.” On the other hand, Nick is still in Denver.

How many years does it take to learn you’re not supposed to waddle into camp? Vancouver General Manager Stu Jackson, on his $11-million player, now known affectionately as Bryant “Too Big Country” Reeves: “He’s getting there. He had lost about 17 pounds . . . but he still has a ways to go. He has to be more consistent and he has to work harder.” Aside from that, how do you like your investment? . . . Seattle’s Vin Baker, who unraveled in last season’s playoffs, is averaging 11 points and six rebounds, down from last season’s 19-10. “We need him,” Coach Paul Westphal said. “He’s an all-star. And we need him to produce like an all-star every night. He’s done it before. And we believe he will do it again. But until he does, our offense is going to sputter.” . . . Even Bison get the blues: Grant Hill blamed the Pistons’ early slide on Bison Dele, nee Brian Williams. “If he’s not going to play, we have to put him down,” Hill said. “We can put [since-waived rookie] Mikki Moore in there and at least we would get some energy.” Dele said it was an energy issue--and he was all out. “My whole day is designed for how I can get as much energy as I can for game time,” he says. “You are always trying to get to that boiling point where you are ready to explode on the court. I’m still figuring it out.” . . . Why he’d make a good Laker, in case you-know-who doesn’t work out: “Charles Oakley has meant the world to me,” Toronto Coach Butch Carter says. “In the first two games, he was on the floor nine times and in the seats one. He sets the tone of what we want to do.” . . . Cleveland’s Bob Sura, after Allen Iverson torched him for 37 points: “I’d rather get my teeth pulled. You don’t have 20,000 people watching you.”

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