LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The Los Angeles Lakers are leaning strongly toward hiring Kurt Rambis as permanent coach, according to a published report.

The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday that several unidentified sources close to the situation said key Laker executives favor the selection of Rambis, who took over on an interim basis from Del Harris in February.

No contract negotiations have begun and team executive vice president Jerry West and general manager Mitch Kupchak have yet to formally present Rambis as their choice to owner Jerry Buss, the sources said.

Lakers spokesman John Black said the team had no comment on the Times report.

``We are not ready to discuss that publicly yet,'' Black said.

Rambis led the Lakers past Houston in the first round of the NBA playoffs before losing four straight to San Antonio.

``The feeling is this team has to grow together, and you don't do that by firing the coach after such a traumatic season,'' one Times source said.

West and Kupchak surveyed key Laker players about Rambis and several _ led by a rousing endorsement by Kobe Bryant _ said they would fully support his return, the Times sources said.