Claims organization doesn't want to win

Updated: June 27, 2004, 9:16 AM ET
ESPN.com news service

Though Shaquille O'Neal has heard from numbers of Lakers fans who want him to stay in Los Angeles, the All-Star center insists he will not return to the team next season.

Shaquille O'Neal
O'Neal

"Unfortunately, it has come to this. But I want the fans to know that it's not me," he told the Riverside (Calif.) Press-Enterprise in an interview Thursday.

O'Neal was referring to the Lakers' decision to split with coach Phil Jackson as well as to owner Jerry Buss' apparent preference for keeping Kobe Bryant over him.

O'Neal is scheduled to make $27.7 million next season and $30 million in 2006, and the Lakers have broken off negotiations over a contract extension, but Shaq told the newspaper that the financial issues took a backseat to the personnel decisions.

"They said it's about the money. It's not about the money," he said. "It's about honesty, and the honesty me and [former Lakers general manager] Jerry West had. That's been gone for four years now ... It ain't about the extension. Of course, that's what they are going to make it out to be."

O'Neal sees the current impasse as a problem stemming from the Lakers' management, who Shaq sees as having become too "fat" from years of winning to have the drive to win further.

While the Lakers could decide not to trade O'Neal, compelling him to return to the team for his ninth season, Shaq was adamant in his refusal to consider such an option.

"There ain't no ifs," he told the newspaper. "I want to play for a team that's willing to win."

For the Lakers' part, general manager Mitch Kupchak expressed his team's hope that O'Neal will return, but several team insiders told the Press-Enterprise that O'Neal will be traded, albeit likely not before mid-July.

In the days leading up to Thursday's NBA draft, there was considerable speculation that the Mavericks were making personnel moves designed to accumulate enough pieces to acquire Shaq. Dallas owner Mark Cuban confirmed to the paper that he had already contacted the Lakers about their star center, but he's not the only one, as a handful of teams apparently have expressed interest in acquiring the three-time NBA Finals MVP.

"We're going to listen to everybody," O'Neal agent Mike Parris said in a phone interview Thursday. "It's not just about putting a deal together. It's making sure the Lakers get something that they want [too]."

Parrish said O'Neal is not yet considering any particular teams.

While O'Neal seems to be welcoming a trade, he remains defiant in his belief that he makes the Lakers tick. When asked about Bryant's possible role in Jackson's departure and O'Neal's own impending move, the big man said, "I don't know. ... They say I'm getting older. Of course, I am.

"But can't nobody [mess] with me. I'm like toilet paper, Pampers and toothpaste. I'm definitely proven to be effective."

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