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Lakers Have Thoughts on Taking Penny

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jump-started by Penny Hardaway’s personal entreaties to Jerry West and former teammate Shaquille O’Neal, the Lakers have explored blockbuster sign-and-trade scenarios to acquire the versatile, at times volatile guard from the Orlando Magic, several sources said Tuesday.

The sources also cautioned that, because of salary-cap complications and what the Lakers might send the Magic in return, the Lakers are far from completing any deal for Hardaway.

One source said there was a “50-50 chance” a deal of this magnitude could be pulled off, and several other sources put it at less than that.

But Hardaway apparently has expressed a strong desire to join the Lakers, newly hired Coach Phil Jackson, and O’Neal, with whom he reached the 1995 NBA finals but also experienced a much-reported rift.

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Several sources close to Jackson say that the 6-foot-7 Hardaway would be a perfect weapon in the triangle offense, adding another long-armed, multi-dimensional guard to pair with Kobe Bryant.

Other sources say that West, the Lakers’ executive vice president, was intrigued when he spoke to Hardaway late last week, and that West almost immediately initiated talks with Magic officials.

Some sources indicate that West mentioned a package involving shooter Glen Rice. But a Laker spokesman on Tuesday denied that the Lakers ever mentioned Rice in any trade proposals with the Magic.

The Laker spokesman confirmed that Hardaway met with West last week.

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When asked about Hardaway, Laker General Manager Mitch Kupchak on Tuesday said it was not club policy to comment on speculation.

“I’m not going to confirm that or deny it,” Kupchak said.

Hardaway, who turned 28 Sunday, opted out of his long-term contract (erasing three years and $26.8 million) with Orlando in June and is an unrestricted free agent.

The only way the Lakers, who are over the cap, could pay him a market-price salary would be to work a sign-and-trade deal with the Magic.

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Other teams mentioned as possible Hardaway suitors are the Clippers, the Phoenix Suns, Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls.

But Hardaway has made it clear to the Lakers that his No. 1 option is the Lakers, and a reunion with O’Neal.

Though O’Neal and Hardaway reportedly were at odds occasionally during the end of their Magic days--and more so once O’Neal left to sign with the Lakers in 1996--the tension has been overstated, said O’Neal’s agent, Leonard Armato.

Armato also said that Hardaway called O’Neal about two weeks ago to clear the air and set the stage for a possible reunion in L.A.

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“They had a pleasant conversation and sort of reminisced about being teammates,” Armato said Tuesday.

“Certainly as a result of that conversation, it laid to rest any speculation that there was any problem between the two. They have no problem at all with each other.”

Armato said he saw a nice symmetry between now and the summer of 1993, when O’Neal, having just completed his rookie season, convinced the Magic to acquire Hardaway after he had been drafted by the Golden State Warriors.

“It would certainly be a case of history repeating itself if Penny were to come to the Lakers as a result of conversations he’s had with Shaquille,” Armato said.

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Hardaway, whose vast talents have been almost matched throughout his six-year NBA career by his ability to immerse himself in intra-team struggles, has had strained relationships with several coaches and executives in Orlando, including last season with since-retired coach Chuck Daly, and injury problems that caused him to miss 76 games combined in 1996-97 and 1997-98.

Would Orlando, which already lost O’Neal to the Lakers as a free agent, be interested in sending their second star West?

One source said that the Magic is evaluating the potential addition of Rice, who was infuriated when the Lakers picked up their $7-million option on him for the 1999-00 season.

“I don’t think they have much of a choice,” said one source of the Magic. “If they want something in return, they’ve got to do a sign-and-trade, and Penny’s got the choice where he wants to go.

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“And I think it’s clear he wants to go to the Lakers and win a championship, if he can.”

Rice has said in the past that he would like to play nearer to his home in Miami. Before he was traded to the Lakers last March from Charlotte, he apparently told the Lakers that Miami and Orlando would have been his first two choices.


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