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|Shaq says the Lakers vowed to get him 'whatever you need' after recruiting Malone and Payton.|
"People act like they care, but they don't really care about you," he said in our interview. "Because if they cared about you like they said they did, then stuff would be in place. And that's the only problem I have with business. ... If you don't want me here, just let me know. I'll do my time, and we can make up a story together, and it can be easy. But don't say, 'Hey, if you do this [recruit Malone], and you do this [recruit Payton], I'll get you whatever you need, baby.' And then when I do that and it comes time, and here you are messing around and jiggling around."My thing is, if you're not going to pay me that, let me go. I've been in the game 12 years; I've been lucky enough to get three extensions in one lifetime, which is unheard of. So I'm not really complaining. But let me know. And don't try to match my numbers up against somebody else's numbers [Garnett's]. "I'm not a dummy. I understand they want to go younger -- [Kobe's] only 25, 26. I'm not tripping over that. But let me know, just let me know. I don't have a problem, just let me know. Give me that respect and give me that courtesy. Let me know."
Think about it. Bryant called Shaq "fat" before the season. He said that Shaq begs out of games with mysterious injuries and that if he leaves the franchise, it'll be because of the big fella.Shaq, somehow, never retaliated. When Kobe was late for meetings all year and late for practices, Shaq never said anything. When Kobe had his own mysterious injury [the sliced finger], Shaq kept his mouth shut. When Kobe wouldn't shoot that day in Sacramento, Shaq didn't say a word. And the reason is, he'd promised Malone and Payton back in November he'd stay off Kobe's case. "[The rift] didn't flare up again, because I promised Karl and Gary and all my other teammates," Shaq said. "I was advised to be the bigger man. To be corporate. Because he's already going through a delicate situation [in Eagle, Colo.] and I don't want to add to it. So I said, 'Just be the bigger man.' I'm big. I'm corporate. "See, even though I'm Shaq, I still have people over me. People over me who I respect -- and when they speak, there's no questions asked. A lot of people called me. The owner of the Staples Center called me and said, 'You did the right thing.' I always have corporate meetings, and they said, 'You did the right thing. You're good, Shaq. Appreciate that.' "See, with me and Karl and Gary and a lot of other guys, you can say something and it doesn't matter how you say it. They don't take it the wrong way. For example, I can say, 'Come on, Devean, mother------, play hard.' I can say that to Karl. But a sensitive guy will take that very sensitively." Like Kobe? "Like Kobe."
No question, he admires Kobe's skills, but everything Shaq's stepfather said in San Antonio -- that Kobe essentially plays with blinders on -- Shaq agrees with."John Wooden told me when I was 18, 19 years old, the sign of a great player is not how many points you score, but how you make your other guys play with you," Shaq said. "That's a great player. A lot of these guys now think if you score points and if you do all that sh-- around the basket, you're a great player. And that's not true basketball, and that's not the type of basketball I know how to play. If you've got a guy open, hit him. I may miss a guy once or twice, but I'm not gonna miss you three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 times. "I could score 40 every night. If I shot the mother------ all the time. But you've got to keep Rick Fox involved, because you're gonna need Rick. You've got to keep D-Fish [Derek Fisher] warm. You've got to keep all these guys warm."
Obviously, Shaq enjoyed that Phil ran the offense through him, but he also knows where the Lakers were before Jackson showed up: nowhere."So, to bring somebody else in would be to start all over, and I don't have time to start all over," he said in our interview. "And I don't really need to start all over, because the formula's written -- we know what we've got to do." Shaq also thought Kobe was inappropriate when he said he didn't like Phil "as a person" this year. "Me being a professional, that wouldn't happen with me, because I was raised under discipline," he said. "Of course, you'll have your disagreements. But if I didn't like the man like that, I wouldn't make it a national thing. Like I said, I'm loyal. Because I could never get over the hump, and Phil's the man that brought me over. Period. He's the best at what he does. Track record proves it. He has 9 [titles], going on 10." But what Shaq says doesn't matter anymore, which is why he blew off his exit meeting Friday with general manager Mitch Kupchak. He's convinced the Lakers are already planning to trade him ... the same way Wilt was traded once, the same way Kareem was traded once.
|Orlando is the place that has the first overall pick to dangle, the place that has tons more No. 1s stockpiled to give up, the place Shaq still owns a home in.|
Tom Friend is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.