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Deal to Bring Ceballos to Lakers Nearly Done

September 22, 1994|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Lakers and Phoenix Suns have agreed on a trade to bring Cedric Ceballos to Los Angeles for a first-round pick and could make it official as soon as today if Ceballos signs a restructured contract as expected and passes his physical.

Ceballos and agent Fred Slaughter met with Jerry West, the Lakers' executive vice president, for about 90 minutes Wednesday to discuss a slightly altered contract, which would be necessary because of salary-cap constraints. While no deal was struck, Slaughter said his client has agreed to forgo $350,000 of the $2.1 million he was to earn in 1994-95 to fit into the available slot of $1.75 million and that all that remained was to resolve how Ceballos would be reimbursed.

"All the factors are in place that I think it's going to happen," Slaughter said. "The hardest part is getting it to work with the salary cap. . . . I think Jerry West and I will be able to do something and that Cedric Ceballos will be in a Laker uniform now that his days with the Suns have ended."

Said West: "We're optimistic that we will complete the deal (today)."

Because the Suns are expected to contend for an NBA title, they welcome the opportunity to add what could be a high first-round pick within the next few seasons while also cutting the $9 million Ceballos has coming over the next four seasons, especially with a huge payout earmarked for Danny Manning next summer. Getting the pick in exchange for someone who would have been a backup had he stayed in Phoenix makes the deal all the more attractive.

The deal has obvious appeal for the Lakers too. They will be adding someone who is only 25, is a good rebounder for a small forward, scores and shoots with accuracy, all shortcomings during the 33-49 showing of 1993-94. And, it is expected, they will do it with a clause in the deal that says the Lakers can retain the pick if it is too high in the lottery. In fact, that protection is in place for the next two seasons, meaning the Suns may not get the choice until the 1997 draft.

The exact wording of that part of the agreement makes the deal even less risky for the Lakers. They apparently not only have standards on what pick Phoenix can have, but also the option on when the Suns will take it. That means the Lakers may, for example, forfeit the choice for '95 even if it is within the protection because that draft is expected to be weak and then keep the future selections.

"We don't think we can get a player better than this with the pick," West said. "We think he's a terrific talent."

Ceballos--from Dominguez High in Compton, Ventura College and Cal State Fullerton--had two unspectacular seasons with the Suns after being drafted late in the second round in 1990. He started to blossom in 1992-93, when he led the league in shooting percentage and, as a restricted free agent that summer, was rewarded with a five-year contract that started at $2 million and peaked at $2.4 million with annual $100,000 raises.

By last season, he had become a major factor in the offense despite sitting out the first 29 games because of a second stress fracture of the left foot and then being the fourth option at times behind Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson and Dan Majerle. He averaged 19.1 points and 6.5 rebounds in only 30.2 minutes while shooting 53.5%, only to become expendable when Manning arrived as a free agent.

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