To call it a pursuit would be stretching it. To say there's no interest would be incorrect.
The Lakers maneuvered down a prickly path Tuesday, beginning a conversation with the new agent for notorious free-agent forward Dennis Rodman and at the same time downplaying the idea of acquiring him immediately.
"I don't think there's any question--we've discussed it," said Laker Executive Vice President Jerry West, who has been lobbied hard to sign Rodman by, among others, Shaquille O'Neal.
"But everyone's putting the cart before the horse. I don't want to do that. . . . We don't have any idea whether there's any interest on his part."
West said he had a brief conversation with Steve Chasman, Rodman's new agent, on Tuesday, and that Chasman said he would be meeting with Rodman to discuss the situation.
West said he has not yet officially heard, either from Rodman or his agent, whether Rodman is prepared to sign with the Lakers if a contract is offered.
The 37-year-old Rodman, who has won the last seven NBA rebounding titles and been on five of the last 10 NBA championship teams--including the last three with the Chicago Bulls--has indicated he would prefer to sign either with the Orlando Magic or with the Lakers.
The most the Lakers could offer Rodman, who has made a combined $18 million the last two seasons, is a salary starting at the veteran minimum of $1 million.
But Laker owner Jerry Buss is believed to be intrigued by the possibility of adding Rodman to the team's young mix of talent, and Coach Del Harris, looking to win a championship in the final year of his contract, might not be against it.
After the Lakers' morning shoot-around Tuesday, Harris would not comment about the possibility of signing Rodman.
O'Neal, though, remained enthusiastic about the prospect.
"I'm sure after [Rodman] talks to Jerry and Jerry, those two guys upstairs are going to make a decision," O'Neal said. "I'm the type of player, I can play with anybody. I don't care. I don't let that off-the-court stuff bother me.
"I've always said that I'm with Jerry West. Whatever he wants to do, I'm with him. If he's thought about it and decides it's best for the team not to do it, then I'll agree with him. If he thinks it's best to do it, then I agree with him on that too."
And if the Lakers sign Rodman and he starts pulling antics, maybe missing a practice or two or showing up late to games?
"That's going to be Del's problem--not mine," O'Neal said. "You know, we're not really worried about what goes on off the court. Just on the court."
Rodman, if his behavior does not distract the young Lakers, could fill their No. 1 need--an aggressive, defense- and rebounding-oriented power forward. Last season, Rodman averaged 15 rebounds.
Does O'Neal think the acquisition of Rodman would set the Lakers up to win the title?
"We'd be close," O'Neal said. "We'd be close."
O'Neal also suggested that if Rodman signs with Orlando to be with his former Detroit coach, Chuck Daly, the Laker center wouldn't at all mind being reunited with Horace Grant, presuming the Magic would consider him expendable.
"The best two players at that position, in my mind, probably are still Horace and Dennis," O'Neal said. "I still think Horace has a couple years left in him. A lot of people in Orlando probably think he doesn't have anything left in him.
"But look who he's playing with down there. I wouldn't have anything left down there, either."
Coach Del Harris' trial-balloon idea of rotating starts between Eddie Jones, Rick Fox and Kobe Bryant at the shooting guard and small forward spots has been deflated, at least for now. Harris says he will stick with Fox at small forward, Jones at shooting guard and Bryant coming off the bench, just as the team finished last season. "Just one of the things I was thinking about," Harris said. "What I told them was that they had to realize that there was going to be a lot of competition between the three or them and that one of them wasn't going to be starting. And at some point maybe one of them might decide he'd prefer to not start or something like that, but otherwise, I'd just have to make that decision as we go along. But it's important that they didn't let starting be more important to them than the team." Fox (sore foot) did not participate in a Tuesday night scrimmage.
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* MASON OUT: Charlotte learned that top rebounder Anthony Mason will miss the season. Page 4