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How quickly paradise vanished

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Published June 20, 2004

LOS ANGELES - The NBA trade market has one huge addition: Call him the Big Commodity.

"If any GM out there wants a hardworking big man who wants to win championships, call (Lakers general manager) Mitch Kupchak, because he will entertain offers," Shaquille O'Neal said.

The breakup of the Lakers has already begun, with Phil Jackson out and O'Neal looking to join him.

Now the Lakers are Kobe Bryant's team, if the free agent is not bluffing about wanting to be a "Laker for life" and doesn't end up in prison.

In the end, the team belongs to owner Jerry Buss, whose sentiments have been made clear in the past few days.

"The direction they're going in, if they're going to continue to go in the same direction, I don't want to be a part of this," O'Neal told the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Daily News. "This team, it ain't about me. It ain't about Phil. It's supposed to be about team."

At age 32, O'Neal isn't the same player he was during the team's championship years. He can dominate as before, but only in stretches. The NBA Finals against Detroit were a perfect example; he was very good in Games 1 and 4 and far below that standard otherwise.

O'Neal is under contract for $27.6-million next year and $30.6-million the next season and can opt out after next year.

He wanted an extension beyond the 2005-06 season, but it never happened.

During a preseason game in Hawaii last October, as he ran down the court, O'Neal yelled something at Buss about giving him the money.

No doubt that wasn't well-received by the owner.

"When I was brought here by Jerry West (in 1996), there was a team concept. . . . It was something I wanted to be a part of," O'Neal said. "Now no one cares. I told you I'm all about winning championships. Now the organization is different. It seems right now they're trying to pit one person against another."

In his first public comments after the Lakers lost to the Pistons, Kupchak, no doubt speaking for Buss, said Thursday the team would never trade Bryant, and would do whatever it took to keep him.

When asked, Kupchak would not rule out the possibility of dealing O'Neal.

"That would not be a good day in this club's history," the GM said, leaving the door open for what would be the first trade of the big man's career.

The next day, Buss bid goodbye the most successful coach in NBA history.

Asked Saturday about whether Jackson desired to continue coaching the Lakers, his agent Todd Musburger said, "It's pretty irrelevant. Phil was not asked to return. ... He never said he didn't want to come back."

Buss offered Jackson another position in the organization. Those close to the 58-year-old Jackson, such as his agent, would be surprised if he stayed in any capacity.

The Lakers can pay Bryant over $140-million over seven years - far more than other teams can offer - and Kupchak said the team will offer the maximum.

Kupchak said Bryant's impending trial in Colorado on a sexual assault charge has no bearing. But it will if Bryant is convicted. Bryant, who turns 26 this summer, has delivered mixed messages, saying he wanted to be a Laker for life, but also saying he wanted to check out free agency.

T-MAC NOT GONE YET: Orlando GM John Weisbrod said the Magic is still in contract discussions with Tracy McGrady, though the All-Star has reportedly told the team he wants out.

"I certainly will not confirm that T-Mac is going to be traded," Weisbrod said. "I'm going to continue to say on T-Mac what I have said for the last month, which is that Arn (Tellem, McGrady's agent) and I are in discussions."

DETROIT 84, SACRAMENTO 74: Swin Cash scored a career-high 29, helping the visiting Shock to its fifth straight win.

A slim forward with the quickness of a guard, Cash scored on a variety of shots in the second half, when she had 17 points and the Shock (6-3) pulled away from the struggling Monarchs (3-7).

Cash, who has averaged 22 points during the winning streak, made 10 of 15 shots and converted 8 of 11 free throws for Detroit, which started the season 1-3.

Deanna Nolan added 16 points for the Shock, which shot 50 percent. Tangela Smith scored a season-high 21 for the Monarchs.

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