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Luke Walton doesn't count Lakers out

The former Lakers forward returned to Staples Center on Sunday with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Walton says he wouldn't be surprised if they Lakers make a late-season run to get to the playoffs.

January 13, 2013|By Mike Bresnahan, Los Angeles Times
  • Cavaliers forward Luke Walton attempts to block Lakers guard Darius Morris's shot.
Cavaliers forward Luke Walton attempts to block Lakers guard Darius Morris's… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)

Luke Walton was back in his element, the place he spent more than 81/2 NBA seasons.

Security guards came over to greet him on the Cleveland Cavaliers' bench an hour before tipoff Sunday at Staples Center. Lakers publicists too. And reporters.

A link to the good old days, Walton reminded Lakers fans that this season wasn't necessarily done.

"One thing I learned from playing here: Never doubt Kobe [Bryant]," said Walton, in his first full season with the Cavaliers. "They obviously have themselves in a pretty big hole, but I still wouldn't be surprised if they figured things out and made a late-season run to get into the playoffs."

Walton, 32, was traded to Cleveland last March in the deal that brought Ramon Sessions to the Lakers. Walton is in the final few months of a six-year contract paying him $30 million. It's his 10th NBA season. Maybe his last too.

"A lot of great memories," Walton said as he scanned the arena. "The first time, rookie year, coming out of the tunnel. Those Phoenix playoff series [2006 and 2007]. Obviously, the championship [against Boston], Game 7. Watching Kobe score 81."

How many points did Walton have that night in January 2006?

"I think I had four. I was open a lot, though. I was on the floor, but I felt like I was kind of watching sometimes," he said, smiling.

Actually, Walton was scoreless that night. But he did have two blocked shots.

Walton is averaging only 2.8 points in 18 games for the Cavaliers, who lost to the Lakers, 113-93. Walton had five points in 24 minutes.

Whether he tries to play an 11th season depends on his chronically sore back.

"I came into the season thinking if my back keeps acting the way it's been, this is going to be it. But it's been feeling great," he said.

Pondering minor move

General Manager Mitch Kupchak said the Lakers would consider applying for a disabled-player exception for injured big man Jordan Hill, though the team was leaning against it because of its already bloated $100-million payroll.

They would be allowed to spend $1.78 million on a free agent if the NBA granted them the exception.

"We'll look into it," Kupchak said. "We have until Tuesday."

Despite having only 14 players on their roster, one below the league maximum, the Lakers are reluctant to add to a payroll that is $12 million more than any other team's.

Hill is expected to have season-ending surgery to fix a possible torn labrum in his hip.

A disabled-player exception can be used to sign a free agent for up to one season. It can also be used to acquire a player (making up to $1.88 million) via trade, as long as that player is a free agent after the season.

The deadline for all teams to apply for a disabled-player exception is Tuesday. The injured player must be considered sidelined until at least June 15.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan

Times correspondent Eric Pincus contributed to this report.

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