Feuding Lakers hit Valley - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Feuding Lakers hit Valley

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Posted: Saturday, November 1, 2003 3:25 am | Updated: 1:10 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

Their games probably should take place in a playpen instead of state-of-the-art arenas where fans pay $50 or so for tickets.

But it's too late to reschedule.

The Los Angeles Lakers are in town, visiting the Suns tonight as the Lakers try to smooth over the latest chapter in the Shaquille O'Neal-Kobe Bryant feud.

Seldom, if ever, have two such high-profile teammates taken such vicious, public shots at each other. One is called selfish, the other fat and lazy. The potshots have been the talk of the NBA, including in Suns-land.

"Wow!" said Frank Johnson, after reading Bryant's blistering attacks on O'Neal.

Said guard Casey Jacobsen, "It's crazy. They may be the two best players in the league. I don't think I've ever seen anything like it in any sport." O'Neal seemed to make an attempt to bury the hatchet on Friday.

‘‘It happens, it’s over with, we just have to move on,’’ O’Neal said before the Lakers flew to Phoenix for a game on Saturday night. ‘‘He’s boisterous. I’m boisterous. I don’t take anything personally.’’

Bryant may make his 2003-04 regular-season debut tonight.

If the fight is patched up, (or at least smoothed over temporarily), that might only focus more attention on other distractions, including Bryant's well-chronicled legal problems and the contract statuses of the two superstars.

Here's some background.

The soap opera looked at first like it would revolve around that most mundane topic: money.

Shaq acted distressed that he wasn't being offered a contract extension to his current deal, which now expires in three years.

The Lakers then signaled they would play ball, but didn't want to give him the maximum he could get, which would total more than $100 million for more than three years.

O'Neal then seemed to say OK, that he could "sacrifice."

With this evidently put to rest, O'Neal started needling Bryant. Shaq may well have been irritated at his teammate for being absent for much of training camp and the exhibition season.

In addition to his well-chronicled legal problems, Bryant has been slow to recover from off-season knee surgery (which is why he went to Colorado, where he got into trouble, in the first place). So as the Lakers' media circus intensified, it was left to Shaq to answer many of the Kobe-related questions.

So O'Neal signaled his displeasure by leaving Bryant out of a list of teammates.

Said Shaq to the Los Angeles Times, "I want to be ready for Derek (Fisher) and Gary (Payton) and Karl (Malone)."

Then, in case anybody thought this was an accidental omission, he repeated the line. After the Lakers' final exhibition game in Las Vegas, Shaq needled Kobe again, suggesting he pass the ball more.

Bryant fired back, saying he would worry about the guard spot, that Shaq could "worry about the low post."

O'Neal took matters a bit further, saying Malone and Payton joined the Lakers because of him, not Bryant.

Then, O'Neal added, "He doesn't need advice on how to play his position but he needs advice on how to play team ball.

"As we start this new season, (expletive) has got to be done right . . . "If it's going to be my team, I'll voice my opinion. If he don't like it, he can opt out (of his contract) . . .  I ain't going nowhere." Then, Bryant escalated matters further, drawing a fine for issuing a Hall of Fame rip job on O'Neal.

In an interview with ESPN, Bryant said if that if the Lakers were O'Neal's team, "It's time for him to act like it.

"That means no more coming into camp fat and out of shape when you team is relying on your leadership . . . or blaming staff members for not over-dramatizing your injuries so that you avoid blame for your lack of conditioning."

Asked about O'Neal's leadership role, Bryant said, "Leaders don't beg for a contract extension and negotiate some $30 million-plus-per year deal when we have two future Hall of Famers (Malone and Payton), playing here pretty much for free."

In explaining why he went nuclear on a teammate, Bryant said he'd asked coach Phil Jackson "to say something to calm this situation down before it boiled over. But, he backed away, so now here we are.  . . Somebody in the organization had to speak up, because (O'Neal's) unprofessionalism hurt us last year and I don't want it to hurt us this year."

All of this has led to speculation that Bryant will leave the Lakers next summer, when he is expected to exercise an opt-out clause in his contract.

If this happens, "a major reason will be Shaq's childlike selfishness and jealousy," Bryant said.

How could all of this become so public? After all, other teams have internal problems, but they usually manage to keep a lid on public ugliness better than the Lakers.

The Chicago Bulls, the dominant team of the 1990s, are a case in point.

The Suns Penny Hardaway, who has had his share of public disputes over the years (though he says he got along fine with Shaq when the two were teammates in Orlando), says, "Players will talk to the media because they know the media will put (their shots) out there." Some have wondered why Jackson hasn't done more to keep the peace.

Instead, he seems to have stoked the flames at times, reminding everyone that O'Neal is not the league's reigning No. 1 superstar.

"All I've said is that Shaq has got to be upset with the fact that Tim Duncan has been the MVP two years in a row," Jackson said. "His response is just, ‘Give me the ball as much as Tim gets the ball.' I tell him that's not really the answer.

"The answer is about playing in a way in which it's a full season, all the games, every night, and all those kind of things that Duncan does to endear himself to the reporters and all the people in the NBA and media that vote him MVP. . .

"I think for a guy to endear himself to the writers and everything else he's got to show night in and night out — rebounds, assists, scoring, all those things are important, which is what Duncan has done the past two years."

At the same time, Jackson called O'Neal the MVP "without a double" because of "the amount of effort it takes for teams to defend him."

But this was enough for Shaq to take aim at this coach, saying, "I had two Phils in my life (Jackson and his father). I only got one now."

Joked Jackson, "He said he only has one Phil in his life now. I thought it was me, but that's how selfish I am about it."

Malone sounded more serious about it all. His reaction: "They're not paying me enough for this stuff."

BONUS SHOTS: Johnson says he has told guard Joe Johnson not to press because he has started the season shooting the ball poorly (5-for-22) for 23 percent.

The Suns coach praised his off guard's defense, saying he told him, "'You don't have to look over your shoulder,'" that if the coach was worried about the player's shooting, he wouldn't have played him 66 minutes in the first two games.

The Suns coach acknowledged that Zarko Cabarkapa, who had trouble even hitting the rim Thursday vs. the Cavaliers, is obviously nervous.

"I'm probably forcing too much on him," Johnson said. "But I'm not worried about him.''

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