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His Leaning Power Should Worry Buss

Venga prego a casa, Jerry Buss.

That’s “Please come home, Jerry Buss” in Italian, which is what they speak in Italy, which is where the Laker owner just flew for his annual summer vacation, as opposed to his fall, winter and spring vacations.

Of course, Buss is used to better times when the Lakers ran themselves. For years, they had the great Jerry West. By the time West left in 2000, they had Phil Jackson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

Now Jackson is history, Bryant is a free agent and O’Neal is upset, which leaves a lot for GM Mitch Kupchak to do, indeed.

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Buss boarded his plane, assuming his people would carry on as they always have. Of course, this season the job isn’t just filling in around O’Neal and Bryant. It’s filling in around Bryant.

Like everyone else, Buss assumed Bryant would be staying, after all the Lakers did to keep him.

You may have noticed Bryant hasn’t said anything. Ominously, sources say he’s unimpressed by the new Laker program and hasn’t committed himself to returning.

Still intent on staying in the area, Bryant’s alternative remains the Clippers. For the Clippers’ part, their alternative to their entire history remains him.

Once more around the piazza, Mr. Gondolier, and do you know “That’s Amore?”

Not coincidentally, everything the Clippers have done this spring has had one purpose: cap room.

They could have stayed at No. 2 and drafted Emeka Okafor. Instead, they traded down to No. 4, saving $600,000 in salary. Sending Predrag Drobjnak to Charlotte in the deal saved $2.8 million. When Melvin Ely and Eddie House go, which is expected to be momentarily, they’ll save another $2.5 million, dropping them $16.7 million under the cap -- enough to max Bryant out.

Meanwhile, Derek Fisher and Karl Malone opted out, Gary Payton said he’d return and the Lakers said they would trade O’Neal. Because Malone was like their den father, Fisher had a great postseason, Payton an awful one and O’Neal is still a giant, none of these can be considered a coup.

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Nor can Bryant be sure of what he’d be returning to.

At present, the Dallas Mavericks seem to be the leaders in the Shaq Derby, although owner Mark Cuban, an expert in self-delusion, thinks he can somehow get the Lakers to do it without Dirk Nowitzki.

Let’s assume for a moment that Cuban wises up and throws Nowitzki into the deal with Steve Nash and Josh Howard. Then what do the Lakers have?

Nowitzki is a rare seven-footer, indeed, raining three-pointers on opponents. He’s a fine rebounder. And that’s it.

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He doesn’t pass the ball, so double-teams are a problem. He doesn’t defend. When Boston GM Danny Ainge was doing TV commentary, he noted Dirk was more like a 6-5 player at the other end.

Playing with Bryant, they would be a better version of the Mavericks. They would still need a big man, or two, and they wouldn’t have any cap space.

Would Bryant be better off playing with them ... or with Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, Chris Kaman and Chris Wilcox?

Even after all the players who fled, the Clippers retain a core of athletic young prospects. Of course, as often as they’ve been in the lottery, they’re locked into a wealth of talent, until it starts climbing the walls.

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It would take a daring young man, bordering on foolhardy, to volunteer to work for Donald T. Sterling, on the assumption you’re the one who can succeed where so many have failed.

Of course, Bryant is a daring, young man, who has done some foolhardy things in his life. Kupchak is in a fix. The way to get the best deal for O’Neal is to wait, so teams understand this isn’t a fire sale. Cuban’s gall in trying to land Shaq for Nash, Howard and Michael Finley shows where the market is now.

On the other hand, how much time will Bryant give them?

And isn’t that Colosseum something in the moonlight?

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Wouldn’t it be nice before they split up O’Neal and Bryant to make sure you can’t put them back together again?

If Kupchak shows up on O’Neal’s doorstep, Shaq might not let him in, so this looks like a job for the owner.

In 1981, after the defending champion Lakers had been dumped in the first round by the Rockets, Buss took Magic Johnson and Norm Nixon to Las Vegas to cool them out.

Maybe Shaq and Kobe could join Buss in Rome?

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Of course, they have telephones over there. The Lakers can still transact business, although they’d better hope it goes better than last summer.

After Kupchak agreed to terms with Malone, Malone said he’d like to talk to Buss before signing.

This was easy, in theory. Malone then sat at home on his ranch in Arkansas, waiting for the call ... that didn’t come for four days. The time change was said to be throwing Buss off, but there was no sweat.

Meanwhile, the Spurs were calling Malone daily, offering a three-year, $13.5-million deal, compared to the $1.5 million the Lakers were offering over one.

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Finally Buss called ... and got Malone’s answering machine. Nevertheless, Buss left a welcoming message and that was good enough for Malone.

Who knows? It all just might work out again.

Or maybe Buss can find Nero’s castle and fiddle while the Lakers burn.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Draft Lottery Selections

Players selected by teams that didn’t make the playoffs last season:

*--* NO. TEAM PLAYER POS. SCHOOL 1. Orlando Dwight Howard Forward SW Atlanta Chr. Academy 2. a-Charlotte Emeka Okafor Center Connecticut 3. Chicago Ben Gordon Guard Connecticut 4. a-Clippers Shaun Livingston Guard Peoria (Ill.) Central HS 5. b-Washington Devin Harris Guard Wisconsin 6. Atlanta Josh Childress Forward Stanford 7. c-Phoenix Luol Deng Forward Duke 8. Toronto Rafael Araujo Center Brigham Young 9. Philadelphia Andre Iguodala Forward Arizona 10. Cleveland Luke Jackson Forward Oregon 11. Golden State Andris Biedrins Forward BK Skonto Riga (Latvia) 12. Seattle Robert Swift Center Bakersfield HS 13. Portland Sebastian Telfair Guard Lincoln HS, N.Y. 14. Utah Kris Humphries Forward Minnesota

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a- Teams had swapped first-round selections. Clippers got Charlotte’s second-round pick and Bobcats had to choose Pedgrag Drobnjak in the expansion draft. b-Traded to Dallas along with Jerry Stackhouse and Christian Laettner for Antawn Jamison and cash considerations. C-traded to Chicago for a future first-round pick, cash and the rights to the 31st pick, Jackson Vroman.

OTHER SELECTIONS

*--* 27. Lakers Sasha Vujacic Guard Slovenia 33. Clippers Lionel Chalmers Guard Xavier 56. Lakers Marcus Douthit F-C Providence

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