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Wilkes Waived, Ending an 8-Year Laker Career

August 29, 1985|THOMAS BONK | Times Staff Writer

After 8 seasons, 575 games and 10,601 points, Jamaal Wilkes became a former Laker Wednesday.

The Lakers put the 33-year-old forward on waivers, then wished him luck in finding another place to play.

To do that, Wilkes may not even have to leave town. The Clippers are interested but only if he clears waivers and can be signed to a $70,000 league-minimum contract.

If the Clippers, or any other team, claimed Wilkes during the 48-hour waiver period, they would have to assume his contract. Wilkes is guaranteed more than $2.4 million through the 1987-88 season. Even if Wilkes is not claimed, the Lakers still must pay him the difference between his existing contract and the amount he would be paid by another team.

"Jamaal passing through waivers at a realistic salary is very attractive," Clipper General Manager Carl Scheer said. "At his old contract, he is not."

At least two other teams--the New York Knicks and the Washington Bullets--are also interested in Wilkes, according to Edward Davis, a spokesman for the forward.

The Lakers, however, are not interested in Wilkes, which was not exactly a shock to the 11-year veteran. Wilkes said he had long sensed that something would happen to him that would end his playing career with the Lakers.

"I feel emptiness and some hurt, but to a small degree, I anticipated something happening," he said. "I wasn't as shocked as I could have been. I could see a pattern emerging."

The pattern was cut out to fit James Worthy, who replaced Wilkes at the starting small-forward position last season. The Lakers won the NBA championship series with Worthy, not with Wilkes, who tore ligaments in his left knee in February and did not play again.

Wilkes said he had worked hard to rehabilitate his knee and that it is in good shape. General Manager Jerry West said that Wilkes passed one test when he showed he could run well during the summer league games.

"I think he proved he can be a very productive player," West said.

But not apparently to the Lakers, who, for the second time since the season ended, moved a high-salaried veteran player off the roster. First, it was Bob McAdoo, who would have made $933,000 this coming season, then Wilkes, who will make $860,000.

West said, however, that the decision to put Wilkes on waivers had not come easily, and not just because the team may have to eat most of his contract.

"A ton of money," West said.

West called Wilkes to the Forum, where they met for several hours Tuesday morning, and West told him he would be put on waivers.

"There was no easy way," West said.

Wilkes said he had a feeling that he wasn't going to like what he was about to hear.

"I knew we weren't going to talk about a contract extension," Wilkes said.

By waiving Wilkes, the Lakers are now in a position to sign A.C. Green, their No. 1 draft choice. Under the rules of the salary cap, the Lakers can claim half of Wilkes' salary and use it for another player.

If Wilkes signs with someone else, only the amount that team pays him, not the $860,000 contract, would count against that team's salary cap, which also might make him more attractive to another NBA club.

Wilkes said he would rather have finished his career with the Lakers.

Rookie of the Year at Golden State in 1974-75, Wilkes played three seasons with the Warriors before he signed with the Lakers as a free agent. He made the All-Star team three times and played on three NBA title teams, although he was not a major force on last season's. He played in a career-low 42 games, his season cut short when the Knicks' Ernie Grunfeld ran into his left knee in a game at the Forum Feb. 1.

Three days later, Wilkes had arthroscopic surgery, and he wore a cast on his knee for six weeks. He considered retiring then.

"But I wasn't able to do it then and I'm not able to do that now," he said.

The Lakers won despite his absence. They were 45-7 through the rest of the regular season and the playoffs with Worthy at small forward. Actually, Worthy had replaced Wilkes much earlier in the season.

When the Lakers got off to a 3-5 start, Coach Pat Riley benched Wilkes for Worthy, and the lineup stayed that way. Wilkes was just beginning to work his way into Riley's regular substitution pattern when he tore up his knee in the game against the Knicks. It turned out to be the last game Wilkes played as a Laker.

Wilkes said he wasn't sure how much he would be missed, even though he had played eight years with the Lakers.

"I was always treated great by the fans, but fans are fans," he said. "I'm sure some will miss me and I'm sure some won't care. They could say, 'Hey, we won the championship without him.' "

Wilkes' agent, Naomi Wilkes, who is his sister, said that the waiver decision had to be looked upon as a business situation.

"It's a little strange because of the long and close relationship Jamaal had with the Lakers, but (owner) Dr. (Jerry) Buss has been fair," she said. "We don't think of it as a personal thing. It's a business thing. There is no animosity."

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