Saying the Lakers used him as a “scapegoat” for the Shaquille O’Neal saga and also declaring that he “now has some serious trust issues [with the organization]” superstar scoring machine Kobe Bryant publicly lambasted the franchise on local and national radio this week.
It marked the first time in his illustrious career that Bryant hinted that he would probably be better off playing for an organization that is built to challenge for an NBA championship. He can opt out of his multi-year contract in two years and has $88 million remaining on it.
The Lakers have not won a playoff series since O’Neal was hastily traded to the Miami Heat following the 2004 season, a deal that has continued to haunt the storied franchise.
Bryant was quoted in the Los Angeles Times indicating that he would like to see former Lakers General Manager Jerry West return to the team, but the newspaper also quoted a Lakers insider for information that accused Bryant of being responsible for the O’Neal trade.
“The facts are that Dr. Buss requested a meeting with me during the ‘04 season long before I opted out of my contract,” Bryant said on a blog posted on his web site, “and he [Dr. Buss] told me he had already decided to not extend Shaq, as he was concerned about Shaq’s age, fitness and contract demands. Dr. Buss thought it was best for the Lakers to make a trade to get value for Shaq while they could.”
The same year O’Neal was traded, Bryant opted out of his contract and instigated a bidding war for his services between the Lakers and Clippers. Although he came close to signing for the Clippers for less money, at the last minute he resigned a lucrative deal with the Lakers.
The long-term feud between O’Neal and Bryant was well documented while the pair was teammates and leading the Lakers to three NBA championships. Bryant also brought O’Neal’s name into a criminal trial in Colorado where he was accused of rape and subsequently was not charged and paid a huge monetary settlement to his accuser prior to an impeding civil lawsuit.
Dr. Buss has said publicly that he decided to keep a young Bryant instead of an aging O’Neal to build the Lakers future around, but the team has instead struggled just to make it to the playoffs. O’Neal helped the Heat win their first NBA championship last season.
“If you make decisions, stand up and stand in front of your decisions,” Bryant said. “Don’t try to throw me under the bus for something I did not say, did not do.”
Meanwhile, on the same day Bryant was criticizing him (Dr. Buss, 74, was arrested near San Diego) on suspicion of drunk driving.
California Highway Patrol officers saw Buss driving his Mercedes-Benz on the wrong side of the road in the coastal community of Carlsbad.
After failing a field sobriety test, Buss was taken into custody, given a blood test and booked of driving intoxicated and with a blood-alcohol level over 0.08.