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LAKERS NOTEBOOK: RODMAN'S EXIT LEAVES EX-MATES SKEPTICAL.

Byline: Howard Beck Daily News Staff Writer

Adding Dennis Rodman was supposed to improve the Lakers. Now management hopes removing him will achieve the same goal.

But many Lakers are skeptical that waiving the seven-time rebounding champion will get them any closer to a championship.

They hesitated to criticize the decision by coach Kurt Rambis, but players didn't praise it either Friday, a day after the franchise decided to cut the troublesome forward loose.

``I was a little disappointed,'' Kobe Bryant said, ``because obviously I felt that he could have benefited the team, he could have helped us down the road. But it's a decision I'm just gonna have to stand by Kurt and stand by management and just move on.''

Three months ago, Shaquille O'Neal specifically requested the Lakers sign the rebounding ``thug,'' and was perhaps Rodman's greatest advocate. But the usually talkative O'Neal refused to speak with reporters Friday, apparently upset over the decision.

Co-captain Derek Harper also declined comment, saying, ``I don't have a reaction.''

Too many late arrivals, skipped practices and refusals to re-enter games prompted Rodman's termination. The Lakers finally drew the line when Rodman arrived late to Thursday's practice, sans shoes and socks. But the decision reflected a cumulative effect of 51 days of unpredictable behavior.

``It was a decision we had to make,'' general manager Mitch Kupchak said.

The decision was for Rambis' sanity and ability to lead as much as anything. Rambis requested the Lakers at least suspend Rodman, but preferred cutting him. Kupchak and executive vice president Jerry West ``readily agreed,'' Kupchak said. And owner Jerry Buss, a friend of Rodman's, did not stand in the way.

With just 10 games left in a tumultuous season, the Lakers could have let a few more Rodman flare-ups sail by, hope for the best and figure he could be counted on in the playoffs. But in Rambis' view, the team could no longer endure the distractions.

``This is the time we need the ultimate focus and concentration,'' he said. ``I didn't let (Rodman's actions) bother me, I didn't let that bother the team, but it would be silly to say it didn't affect us.''

In fact, his antics could have cost the Lakers a win. His failure to attend practices disturbed their rhythm, Bryant admitted, and on four occasions Rodman refused to re-enter games - two of them losses - citing elbow soreness or muscle tightness. In another loss, Rodman was ejected late in the fourth quarter.

``We felt that he could have gone to war with us a little bit more. . . but those are just minor things that you can overlook with a victory,'' Bryant said.

Too many losses, however, magnified the disturbances and failures to play.

``Of all the things that happened, and there were many, there are certain ones that gravitate more toward the top of the list,'' Kupchak said, ``. . ..and certainly refusing to enter a game falls toward the top of the list of actions that are not acceptable.''

Any negative actions, however, could be wiped out quickly by a dominating performance from the talented defender and rebounder, and Bryant reflected many players' outlook: that it was worth the hassle, so long as the Lakers were winning.

For a while, they did. The Lakers won the first nine games Rodman played, before his four-day detour to Las Vegas. When he returned, the magic was gone and the schedule tougher, and the Lakers have gone 8-6 since then.

So now Rodman's an ex-Laker, but is the team any better off?

``We would not have made this move had we not thought our performance would improve,'' Kupchak said.

Others aren't sure.

``I don't know,'' Derek Fisher said. ``We'll see. . . .

``We have had a lot of obstacles, and this is another one. And we have to figure out a way to put it behind us and move on.''

LAKERS vs. UTAH

Tipoff: 5:30 p.m., at the Delta Center.

TV/Radio: Channel 4; KLAC-AM (570).

Lakers (25-15) update: J.R. Reid becomes the Lakers' fifth starting power forward as they trot out their 13th different starting lineup in game 41 of the season. Travis Knight was activated Friday and will back up Reid. Glen Rice (tonsillitis) will be a game-time decision.

Jazz (30-8) update: Utah is surging toward the postseason, having won nine straight. The Jazz is 17-1 at home, the lone loss coming from the pre-Glen Rice-trade Lakers.

- Howard Beck

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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 17, 1999
Words:747
Previous Article:NBA ROUNDUP: SHERMAN'S MARCH LEADS CLIPPERS.
Next Article:NHL ROUNDUP: KINGS SHUT OUT SHARKS.


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