Bryant says he won't play in opener; lashes out at O'Neal
"My knee is not strong enough to play yet. I know it. When it is, I will play," Bryant told ESPN by phone on Monday. "I probably won't play tomorrow night or until I'm ready."
Bryant, coming back from offseason knee surgery, and O'Neal traded barbs through reporters over the weekend. Neither spoke with reporters after Monday's practice, although Bryant did a telephone interview with ESPN.
The Lakers said the report is premature.
"Our understanding is that Kobe might not play because of the knee injury," Lakers director of public relations John Black said Monday night. "We think he probably will. That decision will be made tomorrow based on how Kobe is feeling and how his knee feels prior to the game."
Bryant said he didn't need O'Neal's advice on how to play hurt.
"I've played with IV's before, during and after games. I've played with a broken hand, a sprained ankle, a torn shoulder, a fractured tooth, a severed lip, and a knee the size of a softball," Bryant said.
"I don't miss 15 games because of a toe injury that everybody knows wasn't that serious in the first place."
O'Neal was hampered by an arthritic right big toe throughout the 2001-02 season and underwent surgery on Sept. 11, 2002. O'Neal missed the first 12 games of last season -- nine of them losses.
Bryant had knee surgery July 1 in Colorado.
He faces trial on a charge of sexual assault that allegedly occurred the night before his operation. He has acknowledged having sex with a 19-year-old resort worker, but claimed it was consensual.
The latest in a series of feuds between Bryant and O'Neal flared up over the weekend when O'Neal said Bryant needs to be more of a team player based on Bryant's play in two exhibition games. Bryant responded by saying he didn't need O'Neal's advice on how to play.
Bryant has said he intends to opt out of his contract after this season, which would allow him to become a free agent. O'Neal said that's fine with him -- since it's his team, anyway.
"It doesn't matter whose team it is. But this is his team, so it's time for him to act like it," Bryant told ESPN. "That means no more coming into camp fat and out of shape, when your team is relying on your leadership on and off the court.
"It also means no more blaming others for our team's failure, or blaming staff members for not over-dramatizing your injuries so that you avoid blame for your lack of conditioning. Also, `my team' doesn't mean only when we win, it means carrying the burden of defeat just as gracefully as you carry a championship trophy."
O'Neal and Bryant led the Lakers to three straight championships, but they were eliminated by San Antonio in the Western Conference semifinals last May.
Coach Phil Jackson and first-year Lakers Karl Malone and Gary Payton spoke at length after Monday's practice. There was no mention of the possibility that Bryant wouldn't play in the opener. Malone and Payton spoke to the team at practice, and each said Bryant and O'Neal were getting along fine.
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index
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