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Relieved Turiaf Finally Signs Deal

Times Staff Writer

Expressing relief as he remembered waking up scared and immobile in a hospital bed six months ago, Ronny Turiaf signed with the Lakers on Tuesday.

Turiaf, who had open-heart surgery in July to replace an enlarged aortic root, signed a three-year contract, with only the rest of this season fully guaranteed.

Turiaf, 23, was diagnosed with the condition less than a month after the Lakers drafted him 37th overall. He rehabilitated after surgery, worked as a graduate assistant coach at Gonzaga University, was eventually cleared to play by Laker doctors, played nine games in the CBA and finally reached his goal of signing with an NBA team.

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“Of course I had doubt,” he said Tuesday. “When you’re sitting in bed and your chest is hurting and you can’t move your arm, of course there’s doubt.

“I had the support of a lot of people. It was a lot of love and a lot of prayer.”

Turiaf, 6 feet 10, averaged 13 points and 6.3 rebounds for the Yakama (Wash.) Sun Kings.

Laker General Manager Mitch Kupchak called it a “modern-day miracle” that Turiaf signed with an NBA team so quickly after serious surgery, but he said Turiaf would need time to acclimate to the NBA.

“We know he’ll bring energy and passion to practice,” Kupchak said. “Whether or not he gets into a game and makes a contribution, that’s not our expectation, at least until next year.”

Turiaf could be sent to the Lakers’ Development League affiliate in Fort Worth.

Neither the Lakers nor Turiaf said they would need to take special precautions because Turiaf’s condition has been fixed and is not ever-present, like an irregular heartbeat.

“There are no worries,” Turiaf said. “I feel comfortable that there is no risk.”

To make room for Turiaf, the Lakers waived Laron Profit, who was expected to miss the rest of the season because of a ruptured Achilles’ tendon. Profit, acquired in the Kwame Brown trade, averaged 4.2 points in 25 games.

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Shaquille O’Neal, after taking the first step toward patching things up with Kobe Bryant, told reporters about Bill Russell’s ability to remain friendly with Wilt Chamberlain despite a deep and lengthy rivalry.

“When I talked to Mr. Russell, he told me he said that him and Chamberlain spoke once or twice a week before he passed away,” O’Neal said. “And even though people thought they hated each other, there was nothing but love there.”

Laker owner Jerry Buss, who won three titles with Bryant and O’Neal, expressed relief that the conflict had finally ended.

“Let it R.I.P.,” he said through a spokesman.


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