Rice Is Steamed Over the Lakers’ Option Play


Glen Rice, who was supposed to be the missing piece of a championship puzzle, gave the Lakers a piece of his mind late Wednesday, adding another layer of discomfort to an already edgy situation.

In a phone call with Executive Vice President Jerry West and General Manager Mitch Kupchak, Rice expressed deep disappointment over the Lakers’ decision to exercise their $7-million option on him for next season, instead of letting him become a free agent and then negotiating on a far more lucrative multiyear deal.

Several sources said that Rice was angry through most of the conversation, and that West was infuriated at the end of it--which led, in part, to his agitated final session with reporters covering the Lakers’ draft.


On Thursday, Kupchak conceded that Rice had wanted to negotiate an extension, but said that each side left the conversation understanding the other.

“I wouldn’t say he was happy,” Kupchak said of Rice, who was acquired along with J.R. Reid from Charlotte for Eddie Jones and Elden Campbell on March 10.

“Certainly, it was an option he knew existed. And he understands that these are business decisions that are made.

“I think when you look at the situation and you paint the perfect picture, I don’t think that was part of the perfect picture [which was] to win a championship, and he becomes an unrestricted free agent, and we sign him back [with a rich extension], and all those things. . . .

“But it didn’t work out that way. And that affects all of us. It affects our owner, it affects other players on this team. It just didn’t work out the way we all planned.”

Reached Thursday, Rice’s agent, Jeffrey Wexler, would not comment on the situation--or on Rice at all.


Though Kupchak said he would not comment on the trade speculation involving Rice, several sources in Houston and close to Scottie Pippen have said that the Lakers did offer Rice in a package to acquire Pippen, one of new Laker Coach Phil Jackson’s players when both were with the Bulls.

Kupchak said that Rice, who is believed to want a deal starting at $12 million a season, never demanded a trade, and in fact, always insisted he wanted to remain a Laker.

“Obviously, there was a degree of disappointment,” Kupchak said. “And the response that we got out of our prolonged conversation was, ‘I’m just going to come in better shape than I’ve ever come in and have a great year next year.’ Which is obviously the response you want to hear.”

West said Wednesday night that the Lakers were hamstrung by an NBA rule that forbids them from discussing a contract extension with Rice until after deciding about the option.

“We really value Glen a lot,” West said. “We’re in a position where, we put him out there as a free agent, we might not get him back. I think our intent is to have him finish his career here in Los Angeles. . . .

“You know, we have to present an environment here that can make Glen Rice feel comfortable and want to stay. [After next season,] we’ll also have the ability to pay him the most money.”


Asked if the Lakers might trade Rice this off-season, West criticized attempts to report about trade possibilities, and said such reporting was hurtful to the team and its players.

He did not, however, say Rice absolutely would not be traded.

Although Jackson is believed to be the instigator in any Pippen-for-Rice discussions, he also is genuinely intrigued by Rice’s potential in the triangle offense.

In fact, Chicago Bull assistant Tex Winter, who popularized the triangle system as an assistant with Jackson during his entire Bull run, and a potential Jackson assistant with the Lakers, said Thursday that Rice was “one of my favorites,” and would flourish in the triangle.

“I think he does everything well--I think he’s an exceptional basketball player,” Winter said. “I think he’s a very good complete ballplayer. . . .

“He might have to be reminded to play the complete game he’s capable of playing, maybe he’s fallen into the syndrome that he maybe thinks in terms of only a scorer, but certainly he’s more than that.”

The 77-year-old Winter, whose contract with the Bulls expired Wednesday, said he had not yet been contacted by Jackson, but expected that he might hear from him soon.


“I’m a free agent, I guess, but I haven’t made any decisions,” Winter said. “There will be a lot of things I’d have to take into consideration. . . .

“I don’t think the Bulls would be very happy about [his leaving for the Lakers]. It would present a dilemma. And I think probably Phil knows that.

“But on other hand, I’m certainly not closing the door on anything, if in fact he is interested in me, and I don’t know that he is.”

Meanwhile, Kupchak said the Lakers spent the first day of the free-agent negotiating period--no agreements can be completed until Aug. 1--contacting the team’s own veteran free-agents and exploring some other possibilities.

Kupchak would not discuss individual situations, but Jackson has said that he would like to pursue former Bulls Charles Oakley, Jud Buechler, B.J. Armstrong and Scott Burrell, all free agents.