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West Gains Another Key Supporter

LAKER NOTES

April 22, 1998|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PALM DESERT — Continuing to raise the stakes on Jerry West's planned resignation, the name of Kobe Bryant has been added to a list of prominent Lakers who indicate their futures with the team could be tied to the executive vice president's departure.

Bryant is staying away from the subject during the playoffs, but his agent, Arn Tellem, left little doubt Tuesday that a front office without West is something that is "potentially a significant factor that could affect negotiations" on a new contract. It is also something that could become a pressing matter in the near future because Bryant can get a new deal this summer or decide to become a free agent after next season.

"The timing is not great," Tellem said. "While the focus is on the playoffs and doing well, there is no doubt he and I would be extremely disappointed to see Jerry leave. How it ultimately affects [Bryant's] relationship with the Lakers remains to be seen, but I think it's obvious that it potentially is a factor.

"It makes the Lakers extremely vulnerable. If he leaves, they will lose, to me, the most valuable Laker for the last 40 years. Kobe feels that Jerry is the one person in the organization he can turn to whose support and guidance is invaluable.

"There's no doubt we view his presence as extremely important," Tellem said.

That's because this has become a relationship of strong emotional ties. That West spoke up for Bryant and raved about his talents when many other teams were disparaging the just-graduated high school player as a late first-round pick has not been forgotten. Likewise that the two have come to consider each other friends and and not simply connected by business.

And then there's the Tellem-West connection. Their families have vacationed together.

This comes amid indications the Lakers would like to do a new contract this summer, although Bryant and Tellem have yet to decide whether that feeling is mutual. They could wait until 1999 to see how the new hierarchy develops, and what changes come to salary-cap rules with the likelihood of labor unrest this summer.

Either way, it only adds to Laker problems in this area. Those close to Shaquille O'Neal have already said he would consider opting out of his contract next summer if West leaves, and Rick Fox said it will be one of the factors he contemplates as a free agent starting July 1. But Fox actually has a closer relationship with General Manager Mitch Kupchak.

*

Kurt Rambis, along with fellow assistant Larry Drew regarded as bright basketball minds with promising futures as head coaches, said he has not heard from the Clippers regarding their opening in the wake of Bill Fitch's firing. But there's no doubt Rambis would be interested.

"I don't think anybody makes any bones about it," Rambis said. "I want to be a head coach, whether that comes soon or five years from now."

*

Bryant sat out Tuesday's practice because of back spasms, but the injury is not considered a threat to his being able to play Friday in the playoff opener against the Portland Trail Blazers. . . . Del Harris was named NBA coach of the month for April, during which time the Lakers went 9-1, and O'Neal was named player of the month after averaging 33.8 points and 10.5 rebounds.

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