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RICE, LAKERS ON HOLD FOR RIGHT NOW FORWARD AWAITS WORD ON FUTURE HOME.

Byline: Howard Beck Staff Writer

From San Antonio to Indiana, from the Mile-High City to the Magic Kingdom, a cacophony of cash registers will ring, ding and ka-ching for some of the NBA's top free agents today. But in Miami, Glen Rice hears only the sound of silence.

The NBA's free-agent signing season opened just after midnight EDT. And over the next few days, Tim Duncan, Grant Hill and Jalen Rose are expected to sign multiyear, multimillion-dollar contracts with the Spurs, Magic and Pacers, respectively.

But Rice, the Lakers' shooting specialist, is no more certain about his future now than he was July 1, when he officially became a free agent 11 days after winning his first NBA championship.

The phone isn't ringing. The Lakers aren't calling. Rice's patience is waning.

Will he stay with the reigning champions? Return to Charlotte in a rumored sign-and-trade deal? Sign with the Chicago Bulls outright? Not even Rice can say for sure.

``I haven't heard from the Lakers, so I don't know what's going on,'' Rice said Monday by phone from Miami. ``I've been through this situation before, not knowing where I'm gonna be. It seems like it's been that way ever since I've been with the Lakers. It's nothing new. I'm used to it.''

Of course, many things remain uncertain with the Lakers, including the state of their entire front office. Executive vice president Jerry West, expected to announce his retirement any day now, is keeping a low profile; other Lakers officials are consenting to interviews only on the condition that West's status is not discussed.

Meanwhile, they quietly work to improve a roster in desperate need of frontcourt muscle.

But the Lakers, who have yet to make a decision on Rice, are also unlikely to make any immediate splash in free agency. They have salary-cap exceptions for $2.25 million and $1.2 million available and hope to land a starting power forward, but no deals are imminent.

``My guess is there will be a flurry of activity (today),'' general manager Mitch Kupchak said. ``I think it's unlikely we'll be involved (today), although not impossible.''

But once again, that mission could lead back to Rice. After two sometimes-lackluster, sometimes-strained seasons with the Lakers, Rice seems destined to change addresses once more. The latest rumors have him signing with the Bulls or returning to the Hornets, who dealt him to L.A. in March 1999 for Eddie Jones.

Charlotte now reportedly is set to trade Jones and others to Miami, in exchange for a package that includes power forward P.J. Brown. The Hornets could in turn send Brown to the Lakers for Rice, who would have to sign a new contract first.

Rice simply laughed at all the speculation but said, ``I haven't ruled out anything. It's all up to them (the Lakers), you know?''

``I don't have a feel right now'' about what will happen. ``I'm just chillin'. . . . I'll play wherever, as long as I'm playing basketball.''

Kupchak said the Lakers have been in contact with representatives for Rice but said, ``I don't really have anything concrete to pass on regarding Glen. It's something we're still trying to figure out the best way to handle it for Glen and for us.''

If they can't re-sign or sign-and-trade Rice, the Lakers are prepared to let him walk away without their getting compensation.

Meanwhile, the Lakers have picked up a one-year option to retain veteran guard Ron Harper and plan to re-sign free-agent guard Brian Shaw. They also expect to sign second-round draft pick Cory Hightower soon, which will bring the total number of players under contract to 12.

As for reinforcements in the frontcourt, Kupchak has no firm timeline for sealing a deal.

``Certainly, we'd like to address our business as soon as possible, in a timely fashion, but if it takes a week or two weeks or a month, that's what it takes,'' he said. ``We find it's always best to take care of our business as soon as possible.''

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Photo: no caption (Glen Rice playing basketball) Gus Ruelas/Staff Photographer
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 1, 2000
Words:684
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