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BILL PLASCHKE

Late Worm Gets Hook

With Rodman gone, it's time for West to show his face again--and for Buss to put his basketball chief back in control.

April 16, 1999|BILL PLASCHKE

"Just go home."

Kurt Rambis finally said it to Dennis Rodman Thursday, exactly 30 days after some of us wished he had said it, finally extracting the most dangerous pest from the foundation of a fast-crumbling house.

The worm has finally turned. Rodman is gone. The bad idea is now just a bad memory. The distraction is over. The 10-game end of the season can begin.

But, first, somebody around the Forum needs to say those three words again.

Say them to owner Jerry Buss.

"Just go home."

With his insistence on signing Rodman, Buss showed that whatever he's been doing in recent years while hiding from media and fans, it's certainly not studying playbooks or motivation manuals.

He needs to return to his position of Team Wallet, and give the basketball back to Jerry West.

Make him the boss again. Allow him to use the release of Rodman--which West probably accomplished by shaking Buss and saying, "It's him or me! It's him or me!"--as West's first step in regaining total basketball control.

Because, more than anything, the Rodman blemish proved that the Lakers are an organization that desperately needs somebody in control.

That is, somebody other than TV announcers unafraid to laugh at them, and former players unembarrassed to scoff at them, and longtime fans unashamed to openly trash them.

And all this criticism wasn't just about Rodman. In fact, most of it wasn't.

In cutting Rodman, the Lakers have silenced their biggest rattle, but they haven't fixed a thing.

What about the coach?

What about the defense?

What about the toughness?

Certainly, West may have made a terrible miscalculation of Eddie Jones' defense and Elden Campbell's rebounding when he made the trade for Glen Rice. That same mistake was made in this space.

But West never would have needed Glen Rice if Buss had allowed him to trade last year for Mitch Richmond.

And West was dealing with a new setting when Buss forced him to sign Rodman.

With everything from the long-term deal given Robert Horry to play an unfamiliar power forward, to the recent Rice mess, West certainly has contributed to the Lakers' reputation as one of professional sports' most underachieving teams.

But the sense here is that only West can fix it.

Judging from the scant amount of time West has been seen around the team lately, it is obvious he has felt shackled.

Now Buss needs to set him loose again.

Let him earn that fat contract extension.

Rodman may be gone, but potential distractions abound.

Like, what do you do about Kurt Rambis?

If the Lakers have every intention of giving Rambis a fair shot next season, then West might want to announce that now.

If the Lakers have any chance in the playoffs, it will probably be with a lame-duck coach.

Among other things that Dennis Rodman colorfully illustrated, this was one of them.

If Buss will not pay for Phil Jackson--and history shows that he absolutely will not--Rambis has shown to be a potentially good fit, given a regular schedule and time to practice.

But without any backing from management beyond May, Rambis has been on increasingly unsteady ground, and Rodman knew it, and that made it even easier for him to attempt to walk all over him.

Even without shoes and socks, as was the case in his final Laker appearance at practice Thursday.

In the end, Rodman will be remembered here as much for being sad as bad.

In the end, Dennis Rodman finally found something that would overshadow his eccentricities . . . and that was Dennis Rodman.

His desire to skip games and refusal to enter others was overshadowed by the fact that, well, he wasn't always that great when he did show up.

In the end, in other words, he was funnier when Karl Malone and Vin Baker were not kicking him all over the court.

As much as we'd like to applaud the Lakers for taking the moral high road, we all know the modern-day truth.

He was not being cut just because he was a selfish distraction, but because he wasn't good enough on the court to make that stuff not matter.

Regardless of the means, the end was justified, the Lakers have one less guy to blame, Rodman is gone.

Which won't matter a whit if Jerry West doesn't use the occasion to return.

Bill Plaschke can be reached at his e-mail address: bill.plaschke@latimes.com

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