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Lakers, Rodman Getting Closer to Parting Ways

Pro basketball: Forward is kicked out of practice by Rambis after showing up late and his days may be numbered.

April 16, 1999|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tossed out and no longer tolerated? Could the Dennis Rodman tango finally be over for the Lakers?

With three key words, Coach Kurt Rambis, possibly with the backing of Laker management, triggered the first stage of an exit strategy on Thursday:

"Just go home."

With the season swiftly slipping away, Rambis threw Rodman out of practice for arriving about a minute late to the L.A. Southwest College gym (without shoes or socks) and displaying no signs that he cared.

Rodman left immediately. Will he ever return?

Call it a trial separation.

"He showed up late to practice," Rambis said. "I told him to go home. He wasn't ready to go at 11 o'clock. That's all I judged it by. . . .

"I just asked him what was going on. He said he was looking for socks and shoes. I told him practice was [at] 11. And I said, 'Why don't you just go home?'

"I felt I took what disciplinary action I had to take for him not showing up at practice today on time. Everybody knew that they had to be here on time today."

Why did Rambis take this action now, after letting pass so many other, more serious transgressions?

"I just feel that we have to be more concerned with the team than with individuals," he said.

Since signing with the Lakers, Rodman has skipped four games, refused to go back into four others--including Tuesday night's loss at Portland--been late to or absent from several practices and generally has tossed Laker management into daily contortions as it tried to explain away and ignore his behavior.

Hours after Thursday's action by Rambis, Laker executives Jerry West and Mitch Kupchak, who are apparently both in Phoenix for the Desert Classic pre-draft camp and were unavailable for comment, had phone discussions with the coach about the team's next step.

One source said that as of 8 p.m. that Laker management was leaning toward either releasing or suspending Rodman, and another said West and Kupchak were particularly bothered by Rodman's refusal to return to the Portland game, claiming a sore elbow. But Rodman has not sought treatment for the alleged injury in the days since.

Both sources cautioned, however, that Laker owner Jerry Buss, a friend of Rodman's and probably his only remaining supporter, still could overrule any punishment decision.

"If they don't cut him," said one source, "it's only because Jerry Buss refuses to let it happen. Everybody else wants him out. He's tearing apart the team."

After the two-hour practice, a visibly agitated Rambis made it clear that he will no longer cast a blind eye at Rodman's agitations.

"We made exceptions and special cases to accommodate him," Rambis said. "But in my mind, the accommodation period is over. I did what I was willing to do."

Is there a pattern of Rodman behavior that must stop?

"We'll find out if it stops tonight," Rambis said, alluding to his discussions with management late Thursday night.

Do the Lakers have to make a final decision on Rodman now?

"I would think that's a fair statement, yes," Rambis said. "I think it's time that . . . everybody jump on the same page. You're either on and involved with the team, on the team, or you're not."

Perhaps most significantly, Rambis, who has mostly defended Rodman during his 51-day Laker tenure, began speaking about the relationship in the past tense.

"He brought to us what we thought he would bring to us," Rambis said. "I'm not going to blame Dennis, I'm not going to blame myself, I'm not going to blame the team for any of that stuff.

"I just think that with all of the stuff that has gone on with this ballclub, all of the changes, even Glen [Rice] being sick now . . . there's just been so many things that this team has had to deal with and endure. . . .

"The way I played as a player, and the way I believe it, is that everything should be done for the team. That goes for everybody. Have we all accepted and made that commitment? No, I don't think that we all have."

Shaquille O'Neal, who campaigned for Rodman's signing, said he was staying out of this decision-making process and said he had no real opinion about Rambis' tossing of Rodman from practice.

"We don't have to agree with it," O'Neal said. "Kurt made the decision. And it's up to us to just follow the decision. Do I agree with it? Yeah, I guess.

"Kurt did what he had to do today. We just have to deal with it from here."

Do the players think enough is enough with Rodman's antics?

"Most of them, probably," O'Neal said. "Do I? Yeah, I guess. . . .

"The organization has to do what it feels is best for the team. I just have to be comfortable with whatever they do. And if they do release him, somebody else has to step up real, real big."

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