The Los Angeles Lakers played out a sad charade today.

The Lakers have known for weeks that Jack McKinney -- who suffered severe head injuries in November but has since recovered -- would not be back as head coach next season.

And the Lakers have known that Paul Westhead, McKinney's close friend and the assistant who replaced him, would almost certainly be offered the full-time job for 1980-81.

But the Lakers had hoped to keep thedelicate situation silent until the NBA playoffs were over.

That was blown to smithereens last weekend when the Philadelphia Bulletin wrote what McKinney had told many people privately -- that he was definitely out as Laker coach.

Tuesday night here, Laker owner Jerry Buss -- reacting to the story -- made it official that McKinney was gone, saying that he wanted to make the announcement now so that McKinney could shop for other NBA jobs. Buss denied, however, the reports that Westhead had already been offered a three-year contract.

Buss made it clear, nonetheless, that, unless Westhead demands an exorbitant contract, he's the man for the job.

Today, a somber, seemingly crestfallen Westhead said that, "my one major emotion is disappointment that Jack will not be back next year. As for all the other ramificaitons of this, I have no comment or reaction, because these aren't my areas of decision-making."

In the land where money talks and nobody walks, Westhead and Buss were already looking for leverage, Westhead noting that he had been contacted by "other teams" and Buss mentioning that Jerry Tarkanian would make a good Laker coach.