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In L.A., losing is not funny. But even in the Lakers' state of depression, GM Jerry West finds the "Demise of the Lakers "theme slightly amusing after a 63-victory regular season.

"I hope we win 63 games next year," West said after the Lakers were evicted from the playoffs by the Suns. "If that's a demise, I want to have those demises all my life."NBA pseudo-psychologists are theorizing on what went wrong with the Lakers. Take your pick. They're old, they hate Pat Riley, they miss Kareem, the Laker Girls are not as good-looking as they used to be, whatever.

And there are problems, which West knew even before the Lakers did not make the NBA Finals for only the third time in 11 years. Even before the playoffs began, West said the Lakers had major holes to fill, and that he planned on filling them.

What does that mean? Only an educated guess, but Byron Scott is gone. That doesn't mean he will be made the scapegoat, merely that he has trade value.

Also, 34-year-old Michael Cooper and 35-year old Mychal Thompson are gone. That will be part of the maneuvering to create room under the salary cap so the Lakers can pursue free agent Sam Perkins. And although several other teams will be after Perkins, don't count West out.

Losing already has taken its toll on the Lakers. Riley, who was presented the Coach of the Year award immediately before the Lakers' series-ending game against the Suns Tuesday, has teased L.A. reporters by hinting he might not be back. Of course, he also admitted he will talk to Lakers owner Jerry Buss about a contract extension, and he still has two years left on his contract.

Sounds like Riley is angling for that long-rumored, unprecedented, seven-figures-per-year salary. That's not to say Riley wasn't genuinely frustrated by the loss. It is merely to say that money and security will right a lot of wrongs.

When Riley returns, he will need to mend fences. He verbally bashed the Lakers several times in the Suns series, and Magic Johnson reportedly is upset about Riley's heavyhanded ways.

But the Lakers will get everything worked out. They always do. And West always does something to make them better. As one NBA head coach said last week: "They need to make a few changes and they will. But I'd like to take their current group, make a couple of adjustments and see what I could do. It's not exactly a bad group that they have out there."


That prediction of a Lakers-Bulls final with the Lakers winning doesn't look too good right now, although it looks better than the preseason Lakers-Celtics prediction. Time for a new prediction - and another chance to be wrong.

Despite their opening-game loss Sunday, the Bulls are still the pick to win the East. The Pistons are tough, but people are forgetting not only the experience the Bulls gained by going to the conference finals last season, but also that rookies Stacey King and B.J. Armstrong got prime-time experience in the conference semifinal victory over the 76ers.

The Suns also got major experience in the playoffs last season and they are an outstanding road team. The Suns will take care of the Trail Blazers, and look for an exciting Bulls-Suns NBA Finals. And the Suns will shock America and Michael by winning in seven games.