Kobe says his mind can’t be changed
LOS ANGELES ” Kobe Bryant asked to be traded from the Lakers on Wednesday, a day after calling the team’s front office “a mess.” He said there was nothing the Lakers could do to change his mind.
“I would like to be traded, yeah,” Bryant told ESPN radio. “Tough as it is to come to that conclusion there’s no other alternative. It’s rough man, but I don’t see how you can rebuild that trust. I just don’t know how you can move forward in that type of situation.”
Bryant, who helped the Lakers win three consecutive NBA championships, has four years left on the seven-year, $136.4 million contract he signed July 15, 2004. That was a day after Shaquille O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat.
Bryant became infuriated Tuesday when a Los Angeles Times columnist quoted what he called a Lakers insider as saying it was Bryant’s insistence on getting away from O’Neal that prompted the trade to Miami.
Bryant, the NBA’s leading scorer the past two seasons, said he spoke with Phil Jackson on Tuesday, and the coach told him he was being let go because the Lakers were committed to reducing payroll and rebuilding long term.
“They said nothing to me about a long-term plan ” absolutely nothing,” Bryant told KLAC radio, the Lakers’ flagship station. “They told Phil one thing and they told me another. Actions speak louder than words.”
“It’s a trust thing,” he added. “They’re in a long-term plan that I had no idea about.”
The Lakers and Bryant’s agent, Rob Pelinka, did not immediately respond to messages left by The Associated Press.
Bryant, an 11-year veteran who turns 29 in August, urged the team at season’s end to do what it takes to get back into contention. He essentially repeated those comments last weekend in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
On Sunday, he suggested former Lakers general manager Jerry West should return. West left the team in the summer of 2000 and was succeeded by current GM Mitch Kupchak.
West, an employee of the Lakers for about 40 years as a player, coach and executive, is under contract as the Memphis Grizzlies’ president until July 1. He turned 69 this week and has remained a close friend of Kupchak’s. West has said he has “no plans to seek employment with any other organization.”
It was West who brought Bryant to the Lakers, trading center Vlade Divac to Charlotte in the summer of 1996 for the rights to Bryant ” the 13th pick in the NBA draft. Bryant was only 17 at the time.
On Tuesday, Bryant did a series of radio interviews bashing the Lakers. He contended owner Jerry Buss misled him three years ago, saying the team would try immediately to rejoin the NBA’s elite.
“That place is a mess,” Bryant said, referring to the Lakers’ front office. “If we’re not making strides here to improve this team right now, to be aggressive in that nature, then what’s the point of having me here?”
The 74-year-old Buss was arrested Tuesday in Carlsbad for investigation of driving under the influence of alcohol. He was released later in the day.
Bryant earned $17.72 million last season and is owed $88.6 million over the next four years. He can terminate his contract following the 2008-09 season ” a move that would leave $47.8 million on the table.
By requesting a trade, Bryant would obviously waive his no-trade clause, but he has a trade clause in his contract that is believed to add about $13 million to his total contract value, a cost to be absorbed by any team that acquires him.
That money would be paid like a signing bonus and would not count toward the salary cap. The Lakers had to pay a similar fee to Lamar Odom when they acquired him from Miami three years ago, paying him about $8 million.
The Lakers won championships from 2000-02 and reached the NBA finals again in 2004, losing to the Detroit Pistons in five games. The team was broken up at that time. O’Neal was traded, Jackson left and other stalwarts ” Karl Malone, Gary Payton, Derek Fisher, Robert Horry and Rick Fox ” went elsewhere or retired.
The Lakers failed to make the playoffs the following season. With Jackson returning before the 2005-06 campaign, they finished seventh in the Western Conference in each of the past two years, but were eliminated by Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs.
The Lakers appeared to be a title contender through the first half of this season, going 26-13 despite several injuries to key players. But they lost 27 of their last 43 games to finish 42-40 before losing to the Suns in five games.
“Personally for me, it’s beyond frustration ” three years and still being at ground zero,” Bryant said a day after the playoffs ended. “This summer’s a big summer. We have to see what direction we want to take as an organization and make those steps and make them now.”
Bryant has made the All-Star team in each of the past nine seasons, clearly establishing himself as an NBA great before age 30. Only one active NBA player, Kevin Garnett, has a longer tenure with one team than Bryant. Garnett has played 12 seasons for Minnesota.
The Lakers won 20 playoff series from 2000-04 but have won four postseason games and no series in the past three years. Since O’Neal left, they’ve received little from the draft, trades or free agency.
Bryant has stated repeatedly in the past that he was a Lakers’ fan since childhood, and wanted to be a Laker for life. But the O’Neal matter and his feeling of being misled by Buss appear have changed things.
“The fact of the matter is that many people don’t know what really went down when I was approaching free agency because I have stayed quiet about it this whole time,” Bryant wrote on his Web site. “The real facts are that Dr. Buss requested a meeting with me during the ’04 season long before I opted out of my contract, and he told me he had already decided not to extend Shaq, as he was concerned about Shaq’s age, fitness and contract demands.
“Dr. Buss made it clear that his decision was final, his mind was made up, and no matter what I decided to do with free agency, he was still going to move Shaq.”
O’Neal said on the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Web site he believed Bryant “100 percent.”
Bryant said he was considering signing with the Clippers and Chicago Bulls three years ago before hearing from Buss.
“Dr. Buss promised me he would rebuild right away, and I believed him,” Bryant wrote. “That is why I put my trust in the Lakers. But when stuff like this is coming from the ‘inside,’ all I can do is hope that someone from the ‘inside’ comes forward to support me and set straight the facts of what really happened. This is the TRUTH.”