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THE INSIDE TRACK | PAGE TWO / RANDY HARVEY

It Doesn't Take a Genius to Absolve This Laker

May 04, 1999|RANDY HARVEY

We all know Jerry West didn't mean it last week when he said he was responsible for the Lakers' disappointing season. But even if he did mean it, which he didn't, I wouldn't blame him.

He's not an ex-genius yet.

So the Lakers haven't won a title in a while. Neither did anyone else, except the Chicago Bulls, during Michael Jordan's reign.

West's biggest mistake was in thinking he couldn't persuade Shaquille O'Neal to become a Laker in 1996. That led to the seven-year, $49-million contract that Elden Campbell signed as the center of the future.

All of the franchise's problems date back to that moment. (See, it is possible to still blame Campbell for Laker woes even though he no longer is a Laker.)

We might think more kindly of him if he had been allowed to become the starting center. Instead, the Orlando Sentinel ran O'Neal out of town, he became a Laker and Campbell was relegated to dual roles of backup center and power forward, neither of which seemed to suit or interest him.

In finally unloading him and his salary this season, the Lakers had to pay another high price in the loss of Eddie Jones. With Glen Rice failing to provide the outside shooting the Lakers still desperately need to contend for a championship, that trade now looks like a very good one for Charlotte.

Now we're hearing that West wasn't sold on the deal but went ahead with it because Jerry Buss told him to. That's fine, as long as Buss gets the credit if Rice regains his shooting touch.

In any event, the trade wouldn't have been necessary if Buss had allowed West to make the one he sought last year for Mitch Richmond. The Lakers would now be the contender that they were presumed to be when this season started.

It doesn't take a genius to figure that out.

*

Scouts say Tim Belcher has lost his best pitch, the scuffball. . . .

Now that he plays for a team named the Angels, maybe he feels he's not supposed to throw it anymore. . . .

The same scouts say Dodger pitchers are rushing their deliveries with men on base. . . .

That's because they're trying to compensate for rehabilitating catcher Todd Hundley's slow release. . . .

Kevin Brown has allowed six home runs this season. He allowed eight all of last season. . . .

Randy Johnson threw 140 pitches against San Diego last week. The 139th was clocked at 98 mph. . . .

The Guerrero brothers, Vladimir and Wilton, have combined for 16 errors for Montreal, more than seven teams in the National League. . . .

Wilton has seven errors at second base. Some thought the Dodgers gave up on him too soon when they traded him last season, but I wasn't among them. . . .

Hardly anyone came to Bobby Bonilla's defense when the Dodgers traded him. Now he's being booed so loudly at Shea Stadium that he won't take his children to games. . . .

Met fans apparently think he's not hustling. Bobby Boo, not hustling? Get outta here. . . .

There's speculation that the Dodgers will sign Heathcliff Slocumb if Antonio Osuna can't come back. They might as well bring back Mel Rojas. . . .

ESPN's Dick Schaap: "Of course, there's still the possibility of defection when the Cubans play the Orioles in Baltimore. I mean, I know if I were an Oriole, I'd want to get out of there." . . .

Schaap collaborated with Hank Aaron on "Home Run: My Life in Pictures." . . .

The essays included are as compelling as the photographs. In one, Bob Costas asks, "Has Hank gotten enough credit these 25 years later?" . . .

I think so. Upon Joe DiMaggio's death, Vin Scully said the distinction as greatest living ballplayer belongs to Aaron, Sandy Koufax or Willie Mays. . . .

I'd choose Mays. No disrespect to DiMaggio, but I would have said that even while he was living. . . .

Mays was robbed of a lot of home runs by two years in the military and 14 years at Candlestick Park. . . .

Baron Davis still is undecided about declaring for the NBA draft. He says the decision is harder than he thought it would be. . . .

College basketball coaches are eagerly awaiting the results of entrance exams taken by three Nigerians who have been living in Toronto since December. One is 6 feet 10, one is 6-11 and the other is 7-0. . . .

UCLA is believed to be in the running, but Louisville might have the edge. . . .

The Cardinals' athletic director, Tom Juric, believes he's a distant relative of Yugoslavia-born Slavko Duric, who is serving as guardian of the Nigerians. . . .

With John Elway's retirement, the Jets, instead of the Broncos, will be in the Super Bowl next season. That's not me talking. It's the Broncos' Terrell Davis.

*

While wondering if the new "Star Wars" movie is about Shaq and Kobe, I was thinking: The Kentucky Derby was more of a stampede than a race, evidence regarding Dodger scouts illegally recruiting in Cuba might be found in their humidors, let's hope we never see another regular season like this one in the NBA.

Randy Harvey can be reached at his e-mail address: randy.harvey@latimes.com.

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