YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Upheaval Battle for Lakers

Game 5: With L.A. on brink of elimination at Utah, Van Exel says he doesn't expect to be back with team next season.


SALT LAKE CITY — While the Lakers prepare for what could be their last game of the season, Nick Van Exel said he has already prepared himself to be traded this summer.

He concedes he is resigned to being dealt after the latest in a series of conflicts with Coach Del Harris.

The matter-of-fact comments, void of anger or frustration, came Sunday after a workout at Westminster College, on the Utah Jazz' practice court. Tonight, the Lakers take a 1-3 deficit to the Jazz' playing court, the Delta Center, for Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals, aware that another loss means elimination.

"I told my boys that could have been my last game at the Forum," Van Exel said of Saturday's loss, which included a confrontation with Harris on the bench, visible to fans in the building and captured by national television. "The way I look at it is, I'll just keep playing while I'm a Laker and see what happens."

But he figures he knows what will happen, meaning he would be surprised to be back with the Lakers next season.

"Yeah, I would be," he said. "I really would be."

A run-in between Van Exel and Harris is nothing new, their relationship having long ago been accepted as tenuous, to the point that Executive Vice President Jerry West declined comment Sunday because it was just another in a series of confrontations. But both sides, the coach and his temperamental point guard, also understood it was OK as long as the Lakers were winning. And that when things were bad, they would probably get past it.

But this time, it happened in the most crucial game of the season, at a time when the Lakers, down, 2-1, in the best-of-seven series, needed mature leadership and instead got a shouting match on the bench. It reignited the debate over whether Van Exel is the point guard to take the team to a title.

"While I'm here, I'll just play," Van Exel said. "It's not the end of the world or anything. It's not like I'm going to die.

"A couple years ago, if I heard all those things, I'd get real upset. But now I just roll with it. This is a business. I understand how people are."

The two have clashed before over playing time and playing style, but the latest incident, the one that Van Exel feels may have pushed him out the door, didn't have anything to do with either at the start. It didn't even have anything to do with Van Exel.

Early in Game 4, Harris wanted Elden Campbell to make an adjustment and called Van Exel, a team captain, over to pass the word. Harris said Van Exel "waved me off." So only 1:57 into the game, Harris took Van Exel out.

Van Exel came to the bench and kicked a chair.

He screamed profanities.

Harris, returning fire, leaned down and forcefully gestured with his hands to accentuate his point.

"It really wasn't that big of a deal," Harris said Sunday. "I think everybody made it into a big deal."

Reminded that it wasn't only media-driven because Van Exel said that it affected him, even if the benching lasted only two minutes, Harris became irritated. He also wouldn't say why he didn't just call Campbell over.

"I'm done with that issue," Harris said, adding he hadn't spoken to Van Exel to clear the air. "You people who just want to talk about who doesn't play and who doesn't score.

"We're not going to talk about negative situations all the time. It's come and it's gone. As far as I'm concerned, it's over. That's the way Nick should treat it and the team should treat it."

If it can.

The good news for the Lakers is that they have experience playing through such distractions, because they have been down this road and because they have dealt with problems in the playoffs. A year ago all was crumbling around them--friction from the return of Magic Johnson that blew up in the first-round loss to the Houston Rockets, with Van Exel so frustrated that he began to cry during the shootaround before the final game and skipped the flight home.

That was a different situation, a constant clash of egos.

This is just the coach and point guard arguing. And the point guard being prepared for his four-year run as the team's emotional leader to end. And the playoff run in there somewhere.

Times staff writer Bill Plaschke contributed to this story.





* Where: Salt Lake City

* Situation: Jazz leads series, 3-1

* Time: 7:30 p.m.

* TV: Channel 9, TNT.

* Radio: KLAC (570).


* Game 1--Utah 93, Lakers 77

* Game 2--Utah 103, Lakers 101

* Game 3--Lakers 104, Utah 84

* Game 4--Utah 110, Lakers 95


* Wednesday--At Lakers, TBA

* Saturday--At Utah, TBA


* Chicago 89, Atlanta 80

Michael Jordan scored 27 points and Scottie Pippen added 26 as the Bulls rolled to a 3-1 lead in the series. C9

* Houston 110, Seattle 106 (OT)

It took an extra period, but the Rockets parlayed Matt Maloney's three-point shooting into a 3-1 series lead. C9

* New York 77, Miami 73

Patrick Ewing blocked Tim Hardaway's three-point attempt with three seconds left as the Knicks lead series, 2-1. C9


Los Angeles Times Articles