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NBA DRAFT

Lakers Take On Outsider Role

Pro basketball: With only the 52nd and 54th picks, West is content with current team.

June 25, 1997|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They are outsiders by choice, content to sit and watch most of today's NBA draft before making two picks among the final seven selections--by which time it will be tonight's NBA draft--because they are content with the current team.

The Lakers had said as much in the days after the disappointing second-round playoff loss to the Utah Jazz, and now they have stated it even more definitively. The Philadelphia 76ers called to dangle the second pick, the Boston Celtics the third, and both were told no thanks, because either trade would have meant tearing at the core of what remains a team with great promise. Eddie Jones was not going to be moved.

Most of the inquiries came about Jones and Kobe Bryant, perhaps because opponents sensed the Lakers would eventually need to move one shooting guard. Try again. Others came for Elden Campbell, whose $49-million contract almost a year ago brought reactions of surprise from around the league but now, suddenly, was bringing interest because the deal had long-term certainty amid the unstable situations of other power forwards such as Antonio McDyess, Shawn Kemp or Jayson Williams.

And then there was Nick Van Exel. Amid the rumor-passing of a supposedly brewing deal with the Denver Nuggets, who, in truth, had no interest in any trade involving the inconsistent Campbell, one offer the Lakers did receive said much about their continued commitment to him.

Jones for Cleveland's Terrell Brandon.

The Lakers, had they been interested, could have had an all-star at point guard, Bryant at shooting guard and Van Exel coming off the bench, or Van Exel as trade bait. But the talks never went anywhere. Jones, himself an all-star, would not be moved. Van Exel, as management had insisted after he promised to make a renewed effort to work in unison with Coach Del Harris, would have a future here.

What that means for the immediate future--today--is that the Lakers will be interested observers for most of the draft but probably not participants until the end, with the 51st and 53rd choices, although they will officially be recorded as Nos. 52 and 54 because of a league technicality. They do not expect to make any deals. Just as they do not, realistically, expect to get a player who will crack the crowded roster in the fall.

"My best guess with these people is that unless they do exceptionally well [in training camp], they're not going to make our team," Executive Vice President Jerry West said.

Corie Blount, meanwhile, figures to be back. Barring an unexpected late change in thinking, the Lakers will pick up his 1997-98 option before July 1. His agent would also like to begin talks for a contract extension. It's a longshot for now, but management is willing to listen to ideas.

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