Lakers searching for a big man

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

SEATTLE -- What next?

Now that their franchise-center-in-training will be taking at least an eight-week break, the Lakers are perilously thin in the middle.

Kwame Brown has started 178 games in his seven-year career, and newly anointed backup Ronny Turiaf is more of a power forward.

In an update provided by a team source, Chris Mihm is at least two weeks from returning, if not longer, from a sore right Achilles tendon.

Thus, the Lakers are sifting through the free-agent bin and coming up with such names as Chris Webber, P.J. Brown and DJ Mbenga.

The Lakers were intrigued by Webber a year ago and have been in contact with his representatives. They think he fits the mold of a triangle-offense player -- good passer, good jump shot -- but are concerned about his physical condition.

Webber, who will be 35 in March, has not played since last season. He averaged 11.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 29.9 minutes in 61 games with Philadelphia and Detroit, but did not re-sign with the Pistons after their playoff run.

He has been contacted by other unspecified teams and will make up his mind this week, his agent said.

“We’ve talked to the Lakers organization several times prior to Andrew’s unfortunate injury,” said Webber’s agent, Aaron Goodwin. “Obviously, they’re a much better team with Andrew playing than they are without him. I think [Webber] will make a decision where he’s going to play this week.”

Unlike last season, a starting spot is not a prerequisite for Webber, Goodwin said.

“He wants to fit in,” Goodwin said. “That’s not an issue.”

Goodwin also said Webber was in shape and would be “ready to go.”

Brown, 38, retired last season and has remained that way despite being contacted by numerous NBA teams, including Phoenix.

Brown averaged 6.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 20.2 minutes in 72 games last season for Chicago. In 2005-06, he averaged nine points and 7.3 rebounds a game for New Orleans.

Mbenga, a 7-footer waived by Golden State last week, averaged 1.2 points and 1.9 rebounds in 16 games for the Warriors. Before that, Mbenga, 27, spent three seasons with Dallas.

After leading the league in popularity last season, Kobe Bryant‘s jersey has fallen to No. 2 in sales behind Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett, according to the NBA.

In addition, the Lakers fell to No. 2 behind the top-selling Celtics in overall merchandise sales, according to holiday-season sales at and at the NBA team store in New York.

Denver guard Allen Iverson has the third-most popular jersey and Cleveland forward LeBron James is fourth.

Vladimir Radmanovic (sprained right ankle) and Sasha Vujacic (sprained left ankle and back spasms) did not accompany the team to Seattle for Monday’s game, although Radmanovic was expected to return to practice this week, Jackson said.

Radmanovic has missed seven consecutive games.