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West Gives It a Rest

Kupchak in Search of Quality

Pro basketball: New general manager wants to shore up frontcourt, but major acquisition might not come until next season.


General Manager Mitch Kupchak, in his first day as the Lakers' top decision-maker, suggested that the Lakers' continued search for a quality power forward might linger until next season, when the salary-cap rules will be more forgiving.

After being rebuffed by several free-agent power forwards, who took more money to stay with their current teams, Kupchak said Monday that the Lakers could sign a couple of guards or small forwards with their salary-cap exceptions.

New Jersey Net Kendall Gill has said he will sign with the Lakers for the $2.25-million mid-level exception if a sign-and-trade deal cannot be put together, and that signing could be announced today.

Also, the Lakers are interested in trading for either Indiana Pacer Chris Mullin or Dallas Maverick Cedric Ceballos--only if they can acquire him for Travis Knight--or possibly both.

The Lakers' top priority is still to trade free agent Glen Rice for P.J. Brown of the Charlotte Hornets, Toni Kukoc of the Philadelphia 76ers or Christian Laettner of the Detroit Pistons, but so far the offers have been rejected, sources say. Charlotte is believed to be offering free-agent big man Brad Miller instead of Brown.

"There are several moves that we know are the right moves," Kupchak said. "And if we can make them, we'll make them tonight, absolutely."

But if they can only make the deals for the smaller players?

"I think we've been pretty consistent about our need for a frontcourt player," Kupchak said. "We're really basically the same place we were last August, which is Shaquille [O'Neal], Robert Horry and Travis Knight. . . .

"We found an A.C. Green last summer and we found a John Salley and we won a championship. We've been trying and we'll continue to try to upgrade that position, but if we can't, we'll be at the same spot we were in last summer, which is to try to pick up a couple veteran players who know how to play and have some size and get us through another year.

"And then we'll look at what free-agency brings us next year. That mid-level exception next year goes way up, to over $4 million. . . .

"So maybe this year we just do what we have to do in the frontcourt and pick up another player that helps us maybe in the backcourt or the small forward position, tinker with it and buy another year."

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