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Smith Apparently Not Interested in Lakers’ $1.2 Million

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

It is good the Lakers are content with their frontcourt, because it appears they will not be considered serious bidders for free-agent forward Joe Smith.

The agent for Smith said Saturday there was virtually no chance his player would take the Lakers’ $1.2-million salary exception to play in Los Angeles.

“If they’d kept their mid-level exception it would have been a different story,” Dan Fegan said.

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Next year’s mid-level exception, which the Lakers have, is expected to increase from $2.25 million to about $4 million. The $1.05-million difference between exceptions would have little long-term impact on Smith, even if the sides eventually chose to negotiate a longer deal.

It appears Smith will have his pick of mid-level exceptions, along with a chance to sign with a handful of teams under the salary cap. Chicago and Miami have been most prominently reported.

Some industry insiders expect Minnesota to shop star Kevin Garnett in response to the debilitating penalties put forth by NBA Commissioner David Stern. The Lakers lack the salary-cap maneuverability to chase something that large.

It is not impossible in that scenario, however, that Smith would stay available long enough to reconsider his opportunity to play for the Lakers, a team that would seem to be a championship contender as long as Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant stay healthy and happy.

In precluding the Lakers, Smith might also have considered their depth at power forward, with Horace Grant, Mark Madsen, Slava Medvedenko and Greg Foster.

General Manager Mitch Kupchak refused to comment on Fegan’s declaration, but did not rule out future conversations with the agent.

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Coach Phil Jackson said that his discussions with Kupchak regarding Smith had led him to believe that the prospects were dim.

“But,” he said, “that’s not my department. We’ll keep the phones open, but it’s not something we anticipate happening.”

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The Smith saga might be the biggest current story in the NBA, but in Laker camp it has barely halted a dribble.

“He would be a nice addition, I guess,” O’Neal said. “But, my advice to Joe Smith is to go where he can get the most money.”

Provided the extremes, very eager to have Smith or wary of Smith tampering with the championship chemistry, Bryant said, “It’s neither. We haven’t even talked about it. We haven’t discussed it. It’s whatever they want to do. If they decide to bring him in, we’ll accept him with open arms and welcome him to the family.”

Like O’Neal, Rick Fox offered advice for Smith.

“I think if Joe Smith wants a championship he probably needs us more than we need him,” Fox said. “His help, knowing Joe Smith, would be valuable. That’s not our jobs to judge him. But we know him as a quality basketball player.”

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The Lakers have invited former players A.C. Green, John Salley and John Celestand to participate in Wednesday night’s championship ring ceremony. The club also will unveil its championship banner, the seventh for the franchise in Los Angeles.

Notes

Forward Robert Horry left the club after the recent death of his grandmother. He probably will return in time for Tuesday night’s opener at Portland. . . . In order to combat recurring tendinitis, Kobe Bryant wore a sleeve over his right knee during Saturday’s practice for the first time in two years.

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