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NBA DRAFT

Lakers' Choices Facing Difficult Tasks

Second round: Wheat disappointed about dropping. Rogers needs Knight to leave.

June 26, 1997|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Meet the Lakers' 1997 draft class. While there's still time.

DeJuan Wheat--the 51st player selected, but officially the No. 52 pick by a league bookkeeping technicality--is a 6-foot point guard from Louisville who can shoot, was named honorable mention All-America as a senior and expected to go much higher, such as near the end of the first round instead of near the end of the second.

Paul Rogers, the 53rd player chosen, is a 7-foot center from Gonzaga who is projected as a power forward in the pros, and an even greater uncertainty. He has not hired an agent and can therefore return to school for his senior season and is also mulling a contract offer to play in his native Australia.

Wheat should be in Long Beach next month for summer league, Rogers maybe. The same goes for Palm Desert in October for training camp.

Beyond that, don't get too attached.

In the diplomatic world, the Lakers will say all the right things, about how both have a chance to crack the roster, especially Rogers if Travis Knight leaves as a free agent. The real world, that's something else.

Eight players are under contract, counting Corie Blount, who will almost certainly have his option picked up before July 1. Robert Horry, one free agent, will re-sign barring unforeseen developments. The Lakers would like to have his backup, Jerome Kersey, return too. They definitely want Knight back, but are working from a disadvantage because of a salary-cap technicality that allows other teams to outbid them, although he has said he will probably be back.

That's 11 players, not including Wheat and Rogers. A 12th will come with the $1-million free agent exception, which figures to be a significant addition considering the players who were taking the minimum a year ago.

So, no room at the inn. Rogers can hope Knight leaves--"That's a concern to us, that we can lose him," Executive Vice President Jerry West said--but even then he would still have to contend with a full house. Wheat is in an even more troublesome predicament: Nick Van Exel, according to several sources never in any danger of being traded despite constant rumors to the contrary, Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant. All back, all with the ability to play point guard.

"Once they get a chance to see me and the things that I do, they'll like me," Wheat said. "There's no guarantees. But I'll try to show them what I can do."

In other words, it was a quiet night around the Forum, just as it had been a pretty quiet few days leading up to the draft, no matter how many rumors were floating as talk-radio fodder. The Lakers, unwilling to break up the promising team even to get a top-five pick, never came close to a deal.

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Laker Picks

* DEJUAN WHEAT

* No. 52

* Position: G

* School: Louisville

A 6-foot, 165-pounder, Wheat was a four-year starter at Louisville, averaging 16.1 points in his 136-game career. He was the first player in NCAA Division I history with career totals of 2,000 points, 450 assists, 300 three-point field goals and 200 steals.

*

* PAUL ROGERS

* No.: 54

* Position: C

* School: Gonzaga

A 7-foot, 238-pounder from Australia who averaged 15.2 points and 8.0 rebounds in 30 games as a junior. He played only four games last season after breaking a bone in his foot, averaging 15.0 points and 6.2 rebounds.

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