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Late Worm Gets the Hook

Lakers: Rodman is finally released, as strange arrival at practice is the last straw.


The Lakers finally annulled their crazy, freaky love-hate union with Dennis Rodman on Thursday night, waiving the flamboyant rebounder after 51 days of no-shows, side-shows and late-shows.

The final decision came at about 8 p.m., sources say, when executives Jerry West and Mitch Kupchak, at the urging of Coach Kurt Rambis, recommended to owner Jerry Buss that Rodman, Buss' good friend, be cut after his latest strange episode.

Rodman showed up a few minutes late for Thursday's practice, looking groggy, and with no basketball shoes or socks.

After seeing that he was not prepared to practice, Rambis told Rodman to leave the L.A. Southwest College gym, then suggested to reporters that a final decision must be made soon on Rodman's status.

When West and Kupchak spoke to Buss, he approved the decision, and Rodman was done, after 27 games--including four that he missed entirely, four in which he refused to reenter (twice in the Lakers' last three games), and several other perplexing incidents.

"At this time we feel it's in the best interest of the Lakers to end the relationship," West said in a statement.

"This obviously didn't work out like we had hoped, but we would like to thank Dennis for the contributions he did make to the team and wish him the best of luck in the future."

Neither Rodman, his talent agency, nor his talent agency's public relations firm could be reached for comment Thursday.

Rodman, who averaged 11.2 rebounds in 23 games after signing a two-year contract with the Lakers on Feb. 23, will be replaced on the roster by Travis Knight, who was the starting power forward before Rodman's arrival forced him to the injured list.

The Lakers were 17-6 in the games he played--but only 7-6 after winning the first 10 of his tenure.

The Lakers owe Rodman, who had won the previous seven rebounding titles, the balance of his pro-rated $600,000 contract for this season, plus another $1.1 million for next season.

A source said that the Laker brass, always troubled by Rodman's actions but willing to overlook much of it if he played good basketball, was pushed off the ledge by three recent actions:

* During the Lakers' victory over Minnesota last Friday, he refused to return to the game in the fourth quarter, saying he was too stiff, then two days later ripped other Laker players for not showing up with enough will.

* He was pounded by the Portland big men for a half, was pulled at the end of the second quarter, was visibly dismayed, then claimed his elbow hurt too much for him to return.

He only kept an ice pack on the elbow for about 15 minutes, then after the game told an interviewer he actually had the flu.

Rodman was expected to show up at L.A. Southwest at 10:30 on Thursday for treatment on the elbow, and obviously did not make it.

* Rambis wanted to use Thursday's practice as a re-energizing moment to brace for the stretch run--and Rodman still couldn't make it on time, or with socks or shoes or practice gear of any kind.

"They should've done this weeks ago," a source said. "He was tearing apart the team. Everybody could see it. The players wanted it, everybody wanted it.

"It just came down to Jerry Buss agreeing."

West has made it clear that he never was in favor of signing Rodman, but allowed during the Lakers' ensuing nine-game winning streak that Rodman was some kind of "basketball genius."

Still, West stayed away from the team for most of Rodman's tenure, silently displeased with the soap opera tension as the Great Western Forum crowd embraced it.

On March 27, after another Rodman episode, General Manager Kupchak, sources say, told Rodman and his agent that the Lakers probably would not accept any more troubling behavior.

For about two weeks, it worked.

But, as usual, it was only hiding the truth of Rodman's ability to disrupt. And as the Lakers tailed off into a 3-4 skid, his behavior was less likely to be overlooked and his play was not exactly all-star caliber, either.

Rambis, basically an interim coach with very little to lose, had been growing more and more anxious at seeing Rodman evade punishment.

After the two-hour practice Thursday, Rambis was still visibly agitated, and made it clear that he, at least, would no longer tolerate Rodman's self-pitying and attention-grabbing antics.

"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 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," Rambis said.

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