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Believing he had been insulted and misled, Kobe Bryant asked the Los Angles Lakers for a trade Wednesday and insisted nothing could change his mind.
Then something did. He spoke with coach Phil Jackson and backed off his request.
“I don’t want to go anywhere, this is my team,” Bryant told KLAC radio. “I love it here. I called Phil, man, he and I talked, it was an emotional conversation, but he just said, ‘You know what, Kobe? Let us try to figure this thing out.’
“Phil is a guy I lean on a lot.”
Some three hours earlier, in an interview with ESPN radio, Bryant said: “I would like to be traded, yeah. 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 also told KLAC, the Lakers’ flagship station, that he hadn’t heard from owner Jerry Buss, indicating a conversation could go a long way toward resolving the matter.
Buss issued a statement after Bryant’s request, saying: “We are aware of the media reports. However, Kobe has not told us directly that he wants to be traded. We have made it very clear that we are building our team around Kobe and that we intend for him to be a Laker his entire career. We will speak directly to Kobe and until we do that, we will not comment publicly about this.”
Bryant told KLAC that his agent had contacted general manager Mitch Kupchak early Wednesday.
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 a Lakers “insider” as saying it was Bryant’s insistence on getting away from O’Neal that prompted the trade to Miami.
Bryant told KLAC he knew who the so-called insider was, but wouldn’t identify the person.
Bryant also said he feels Buss misled him three years ago — right before he re-signed with the Lakers — by telling him one thing and Jackson something else about the team’s goals.
Bryant said he was told the Lakers would immediately try to rejoin the NBA’s elite. But he said Jackson told him Tuesday that Buss was not bringing him back as coach following the 2003-04 season 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. “They told Phil one thing and they told me another. Actions speak louder than words.”
Bryant’s agent, Rob Pelinka, didn’t respond to several messages left by The Associated Press.
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 title contenders through the first half of this season, going 26-13 despite several injuries. But they lost 27 of their last 43 games to finish 42-40 before bowing to the Suns in five games.
Bryant 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 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 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.
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.
Bryant’s anger boiled over Tuesday, when he did a series of interviews bashing the Lakers.
“That place is a mess,” Bryant said, referring to the team’s 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?”
That same day, the 74-year-old Buss was arrested in Carlsbad for investigation of driving under the influence of alcohol. He was released on bail later in the day.
“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 Tuesday 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%.”
“There is no doubt in my mind Kobe is telling the truth,” O’Neal added.
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.”
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