Archive for Sunday, June 20, 2004

Lakers may have much different look

O’Neal: ‘If they’re going to continue to go in the same direction, I don’t want to be a part of this’

June 20, 2004

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— The NBA trade market has one huge addition: Call him The Big Commodity.

"If any GM out there wants a hardworking big man who wants to win championships, call (Lakers general manager) Mitch Kupchak, because he will entertain offers," Shaquille O'Neal said.

The breakup of the Lakers already has begun, with Phil Jackson out and O'Neal looking to join him.

Now the Lakers are Kobe Bryant's team, if the free agent is not bluffing about wanting to be a "Laker for life" and doesn't end up in prison.

In the end, the team belongs to owner Jerry Buss, whose sentiments have been made clear in the past few days.

"The direction they're going in, if they're going to continue to go in the same direction, I don't want to be a part of this," O'Neal told the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Daily News. "This team, it ain't about me. It ain't about Phil. It's supposed to be about team."

At age 32, O'Neal isn't the same player he was during the team's championship years. He can dominate as before, but only in stretches. The NBA Finals against Detroit offered a perfect example; he was very good in Games 1 and 4 and far below that standard otherwise.

O'Neal is under contract for $27.6 million next year and $30.6 million the following season and can opt out after next year.

He wanted an extension beyond the 2005-2006 season, but it never happened.

During a preseason game in October in Hawaii, as he ran down the court, O'Neal yelled something at Buss about giving him the money.

No doubt that wasn't well-received by the owner.

"When I was brought here by Jerry West (in 1996), there was a team concept. ... It was something I wanted to be a part of," O'Neal said. "Now no one cares. I told you I'm all about winning championships. Now the organization is different. It seems right now they're trying to pit one person against another."

In his first public comments after the Lakers lost to the Pistons, Kupchak, no doubt speaking for Buss, said Thursday the team never would trade Bryant, and would do whatever it took to keep him.

When asked, Kupchak would not rule out the possibility of dealing O'Neal.

"That would not be a good day in this club's history," the GM said, leaving the door open for what would be the first trade of the big man's career.

The following day, Buss bid goodbye the most successful coach in NBA history.

Asked Saturday about whether Jackson desired to continue coaching the Lakers, his agent Todd Musburger said, "It's pretty irrelevant. Phil was not asked to return. ... He never said he didn't want to come back."

As expected, Bryant opted out of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent, and O'Neal took his course of action.

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