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Saturday, May 17
Updated: May 19, 7:43 AM ET
 
Jackson says O'Neal's no-show not professional

Associated Press

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Shaquille O'Neal was a no-show at the Los Angeles Lakers' exit interviews Saturday, drawing a negative reaction from coach Phil Jackson.

"I am upset. It's disrespectful to us as a staff,'' Jackson said at the team's practice facility. "It's closure. It's adult responsibility to do that.''

Team spokesman John Black said O'Neal and Rick Fox were the only players on the 13-man roster who didn't make appointments for Saturday's meetings. Two nights earlier, the Lakers' three-year run as NBA champions ended when they were eliminated from the playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs.

Fox is in New York recuperating from surgery on his left foot.

Nine players kept their appointments. Brian Shaw called to reschedule for Monday, and Samaki Walker, an unrestricted free agent who rarely played in the postseason, didn't call or show up, Black said.

Jackson said he didn't expect O'Neal to attend since he hadn't filled out an appointment slip after Thursday night's 110-82 loss to San Antonio, which gave the Spurs a 4-2 Western Conference semifinal series victory.

Jackson also said O'Neal's physical condition will be a major factor in the Lakers' attempt to return to the top.

"Our team needs the infusion of his energy at full throttle,'' the coach said.

O'Neal had surgery on his arthritic right big toe Sept. 11 and missed the season's first 12 games recuperating from the operation. Although he was often dominant and was selected as a member of the All-NBA first team, he didn't appear 100 percent over a long period of time.

He told Jackson after Game 5 of the San Antonio series that his left knee was bothering him.

Jackson said he wouldn't think in terms of O'Neal's weight when considering his conditioning, but added: "It's about discipline and dedication. Whether it results in numbers, I don't care.''

"We've always known that as Shaq goes, so goes the Lakers,'' Jackson said. "It's still about the force you have in the middle.''

Jackson said meetings with the nine players who showed up -- Kobe Bryant, Robert Horry, Devean George, Derek Fisher, Mark Madsen, Slava Medvedenko, Jannero Pargo, Kareem Rush and Tracy Murray -- went very well.

Jackson repeated what general manager Mitch Kupchak said a day earlier, that there will be changes on the roster next season.

The coach said improved defense is the biggest priority. "That's our biggest problem right now,'' he said.

Bryant agreed, saying: "We need to get more athletic. I think the main concern is defense, to be able to keep up with the teams. I think scoring will take care of itself. Ultimately, you have to stop people.''

Bryant said he will begin weight training Monday, and he plans to keep in touch with O'Neal this summer.

"We'll talk,'' Bryant said. "I told him I was going to come out to Orlando and visit him. We'll be in New York at the same time.

"Shaquille's going to be fine; he's going to be ready next season.''

The Lakers have the 24th and 32nd overall picks in next month's draft. Madsen, Shaw and Murray join Walker as unrestricted free agents, and Kupchak said Friday that the Lakers will decide next month whether to pick up the $5.3 million option on Horry's contract.

If that doesn't happen, Horry also will be an unrestricted free agent. There's a possibility the Lakers won't pick up the option and will try to sign him at a lower salary.

"It's a business. I don't blame them. I would do it, too,'' Horry said.

Horry, who turns 33 this summer, said he'd take a pay cut, although not too large.

"This summer, I just have to work on my game, figure out how to make a 3,'' he said.

Horry has been a member of five championship teams -- three with the Lakers and two with the Houston Rockets in 1994-95. A playoff hero on many occasions with both teams, he was dreadful in these playoffs, shooting 30-of-94, including 2-of-38 from 3-point range.

"I don't know if you have a word that's the opposite of heroic,'' Horry said.

Jackson said he believes Horry can still help the Lakers.

"Whether that's going to happen will be played out,'' the coach said.
 



 

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