Owner regrets Shaq's anger

Updated: November 28, 2004, 9:27 PM ET
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Hey, Shaq. Jerry Buss wants to be buddies again.

Buss, owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, said in a rare interview that he has one regret regarding the shakeup of his team last summer: Shaquille O'Neal's angry reaction.

"I have not spoken to him," Buss said before Sunday night's game against the New Orleans Hornets. "I did call his agent and asked if we could have lunch before he left town. I plan on doing that again."

O'Neal has repeatedly expressed anger at the Lakers, general manager Mitch Kupchak and Kobe Bryant since being traded to the Miami Heat in July.

"Right now, his statements indicate he's not in a very good mood," Buss said with a smile. "He's bigger than I am, so I guess I'll wait a little bit."

Speaking two days after the Lakers lost to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals last June, Kupchak told reporters the team would never trade Bryant, who was about to become an unrestricted free agent.

But Kupchak said the Lakers would trade O'Neal if that's what the 32-year-old center desired. O'Neal demanded a trade the following day, and was sent to the Heat for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Brian Grant a month later.

Earlier, O'Neal had been upset concerning negotiations for a contract extension. O'Neal is under contract for $27.7 million this season and $30.6 million next season. He can opt out next summer if he desires.

Buss confirmed that O'Neal was offered around $45 million for two more years, meaning he would have been under contract for over $100 million over the next four seasons had he accepted the offer.

"Do I wish he had taken that? I wanted him to take it," Buss said. "Whether or not I would have still traded him or not, I'm not sure. It's hard to go back in history."

Buss said he eagerly awaits the Christmas Day game between the Lakers and Miami Heat -- O'Neal's first against the Lakers since the trade.

"I can't wait. I think that's going to be one of the biggest games in sports," Buss said.

Buss also said he was "totally satisfied" with the rebuilt team, which has nine new players on the 15-man roster and a new coach -- Rudy Tomjanovich.

The Lakers brought a 7-6 record into Sunday night's game.

Bryant signed a seven-year, $136.4 million contract to return, and Buss believes the Bryant-Odom tandem can be one of the NBA's best.

Bryant is 26, Odom 25 and both have long-term deals.

Buss has always preferred an entertaining, fast-breaking team. That being the case, he said he felt a coaching change was needed after last season.

Phil Jackson guided the Lakers to three championships in his five years on the job.

"I always felt in the season that it was a situation that had run its course," Buss said. "It was a great five years, but it was over. I'm not sure when I came to that conclusion. I think Phil might have retired, anyway."

Buss said he respected Bryant for not reacting to criticism from Jackson in his recently published book and from O'Neal in several interviews.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press