Thursday, June 17, 2004
Kobe Bryant will become a free agent and Shaquille O'Neal is unhappy.
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) -- Phil Jackson stood at the podium in the interview room with four of his five grown children and said there was a "pretty slim chance" he'll coach the Los Angeles Lakers next season.
Then he said it again.
"I've had a lot of persuasion given to me by these kids. They were hoping I could win the 10th and retire, but maybe losing this one, this opportunity is enough for me to say that it's time to give it up," he said. "But right now I'm not ready to make that decision or give that statement."
So while Jackson wouldn't commit, it certainly appeared to be a farewell -- at least for the time being -- from a 58-year-old coach whose perfect record in the finals was spoiled by the Detroit Pistons.
To meet with Lakers
Jackson said he planned to meet with members of the Lakers' organization in the days ahead to discuss a future that promises to be filled with changes.
Question No. 1 will be whether the franchise still believes Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant can coexist. Bryant plans to opt out of his contract and become a free agent, although he has said he wants to be "a Laker for life."
Team owner Jerry Buss has given every indication he wants to keep Bryant, whose fractured relationship with Jackson and O'Neal could be one of the driving forces behind an off-season of change around the league.
Not only will Bryant be a free agent, but Gary Payton and Karl Malone also can opt out of their contracts. O'Neal -- already angry that the Lakers wouldn't give him a contract extension -- could demand a trade if he decides the time has come to end his association with a team that failed in its quest for a fourth title in five years.
"This summer is going to be a different summer for a lot of people. Everyone is going to take care of their own business and do what's best for them, including me," O'Neal said. "I'm not sure really where the organization wants to go from here."
Bobcats coming in
Change will come to other NBA franchises, too, beginning next Tuesday when the Charlotte Bobcats select 14 players from other teams' rosters in the expansion draft.
The regular draft comes two days later with the Orlando Magic holding the first overall pick.
Free agents can begin signing with teams beginning in the middle of July, and Bryant will be the biggest prize on the market if he decides to start anew elsewhere.
The Phoenix Suns, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Atlanta Hawks, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers are among the teams with the most salary cap space, and each would jump at the opportunity to sign a player of Bryant's caliber.
"I loved playing for Phil. I learned so much playing for Phil and playing with Shaquille, too," Bryant said. "I think we've got a lot of great things accomplished despite our differences we've had in the past. We've played extremely well together. We've had an incredible run. So I would not be opposed to playing with them forever. It's just not up to me."