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Only the Season Is Over

May 14, 1997|BILL PLASCHKE

Summer came early to the Forum on Tuesday, bringing with it the usual blisters. It was quickly apparent that one of them was Nick Van Exel.

As the Lakers cleaned out their lockers after the disappointing second-round playoff loss to the Utah Jazz, club officials cleaned the air of the recent point-guard pollution.

The view was unspectacular and unsurprising.

Del Harris wins.

Del Harris coaches the Lakers for at least another year, unless Jerry West is persuaded otherwise by owner Jerry Buss.

Nick Van Exel loses.

Nick Van Exel is traded unless West is persuaded otherwise by Van Exel.

Such was the gist of an afternoon that appropriately featured news conferences in hockey dressing rooms and players carrying equipment in garbage bags.

The only stunner was Van Exel, who after yapping for three consecutive days, was finally faced with the inevitable.

He ran out of Del rips.

"I ain't got nothing to say," he said.

He was the only one.

Harris, after biting his tongue for what he said has been three years, said, "I can't take responsibility for his past scars. At some point, Nick has to realize that somebody has to coach you." West, Laker vice genius, piled on.

"We can't have a player complaining about a coach when maybe he should look in the mirror himself," West said, later adding, "To say this is the perfect environment for Nick, I don't know. He'll have to decide that himself. . . . This is not going to be easy to resolve."

It's nice that West will try to make peace between his extremely talented point guard and extremely solid coach.

Am I the only one hoping he doesn't try too hard?

Maybe a phone call in mid-June. Maybe goes something like this, "Uh, Nick, Jerry West. You probably still think Del is a total idiot, right? And, uh, you still want to be traded, right?"

As Van Exel reminded everyone in what could have been his final Laker game Monday, he can be a wondrous 48-minute celebration of the sport.

But as Van Exel reminded Harris even before an inexcusable postgame tirade against the coach, he can also be a poison pill.

Lost in the shuffle of the most discussed shot in this town since Magic's baby hook--Kobe Bryant's last-second airball in regulation--was what happened in the final seconds of overtime.

With his team trailing by three and bringing the ball upcourt, Harris shouted for a timeout. And shouted. And shouted.

He was loud enough to be heard in the third row.

But apparently not loud enough to be heard by a player who ran directly in front of him. Guy by the name of Van Exel.

"Somebody on the court should have had the presence of mind to call that timeout," Harris said.

When asked if that somebody should have been Van Exel, he said, "I'm not getting into that."

And this is the player all of Southern California wanted to take the last shot in regulation instead of Bryant?

In case you think Harris was using the timeout story to deflect attention from his controversial play calling, think again.

"I would give that shot at the end of the game to Kobe today, tomorrow, next week, and 15 years from now," he said. "Kobe is our best one-on-one player. . . . He gets the ball in those situations at the end of all our practices."

This is a funny thing.

Fans who have been complaining all year that Bryant does not get the ball were complaining after the miss. Fans who have ripped Van Exel while watching him miss several last-second shots this season were complaining after the miss.

How could Harris put the game in the hands of an 18-year-old rookie?

For one thing, by the middle of May, nobody is a rookie. For another thing, few saw Van Exel limping during the final minutes while losing battles with John Stockton.

"And what are the odds that Nick would have gotten a call if he drove on Stockton," Harris said. "When he took that final shot the other night in Utah, did he get that call?"

Don't think Harris didn't give it to Van Exel--who had outscored Bryant 26-11--because he was mad at Van Exel.

To listen to Harris talk on Thursday, he has been mad at Van Exel for three seasons.

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