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Walker Will Stay a Laker

June 18, 2002|TIM BROWN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a brief meeting Monday morning in El Segundo, Laker forward Samaki Walker told General Manager Mitch Kupchak that he would return next season.

In what will be a weak off-season for free-agent power forwards, Walker's decision to exercise his option--at $1.54 million--saves the Lakers from the possibilities of having to start the fragile Robert Horry or one of their developing forwards, Mark Madsen and Slava Medvedenko.

Walker, 26, averaged 6.7 points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes. He started 63 games.

A midseason elbow injury cost him 13 games on the injured list, and a bone bruise on his left knee limited his playoff effectiveness.

Three games into the Western Conference semifinals, Phil Jackson started Horry over Walker, who averaged 3.3 points and 4.1 rebounds in 12.6 postseason minutes.

Walker could have become a free agent, as he was a year ago.

"He wants to be here," Kupchak said. "He came to us for lesser money than he could have gotten. My guess is, it's tough to judge what the market will be this summer. But this is where he wanted to be. He feels this is a place where he can flourish."

Walker, along with guard Derek Fisher, was to be examined by a physician Monday or today during the club's normal exit examinations.

Fisher has had surgery to repair stress fractures in his right foot each of the last two summers, so team medical personnel will pay particular attention to him.

Shaquille O'Neal, whose arthritic big toe bothered him much of the season, said last week that he would spend most of the summer gathering opinions on treatment before considering surgery. Kupchak said he would encourage O'Neal to hasten that process.

"We'll ask him not to wait until October," Kupchak said.

Kupchak also spoke briefly Monday with guard Lindsey Hunter, who may opt out of his contract, due to pay him about $8 million over the next two seasons. He said Hunter hadn't yet decided, but that he would by the weekend.

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