The story lines that have engulfed the Los Angeles Lakers in the last week hit a crescendo Wednesday when Kobe Bryant said he would welcome a trade.
"I would like to be traded, yeah," Bryant said on 1050 ESPN Radio in New York. "Tough as it is to come to that conclusion there's no other alternative, you know?"
Bryant, interviewed by Stephen A. Smith, was asked if there was anything the Lakers could do to change his mind.
"No," Bryant said. "I just want them to do the right thing."
Earlier in the day, Bryant said team owner Jerry Buss masterminded the trade of Shaquille O'Neal -- and Shaq later confirmed Kobe's account.
The issues between Bryant and the Lakers have reached a boil, beginning with Bryant voicing his displeasure with the club's direction, his suggestion that Jerry West should return to fix things, West's statement that he has no intention of undermining GM/good friend Mitch Kupchak, and, unrelated but bizarre in its timing, Buss' arrest early Tuesday for investigation of driving under the influence of alcohol.
Bryant was left "beyond furious" by a report in Tuesday's Los Angeles Times that read, "as a Lakers insider notes, it was Bryant's insistence on getting away from Shaquille O'Neal that got them in this mess."
O'Neal was traded to the Miami Heat after the 2003-04 season, and the long-held belief has been that the deteriorating relationship between O'Neal and Bryant was a factor in O'Neal's departure.
In response to the Times' story, Bryant, interviewed by Smith for a Philadelphia Inquirer column, said Buss "called a meeting with me after he spoke with Jim Gray [of ESPN] to talk with him about Shaq's future in the middle of the 2004 season.
"He met with me at the Four Seasons Hotel here [in Newport Beach, Calif.] across from Fashion Island, which is now the Island Hotel," Bryant told Smith. "I went up to his penthouse suite. [Buss] looks me dead in the face and says: 'Kobe, I am not going to re-sign Shaq. I am not about to pay him $30 million a year or $80 million over three years. No way in hell. I feel like he's getting older. His body is breaking down, and I don't want to pay that money to him when I can get value for him right now rather than wait.
"This is my decision. It's independent of you. My mind is made up. It doesn't matter to me what you do in free agency because I do not want to pay [Shaq], period.'"
"Dr. Buss said that," Bryant told Smith. "And I haven't said anything for years because I've always felt like folks were just looking to create controversy. Now I know. I realize what extent [the Lakers] will go to, to cover themselves."
Reached afterward, O'Neal told Smith that he believed his former teammate to be beyond reproach.
"I believe Kobe 100 percent," O'Neal said when reached in Los Angeles. "Absolutely. There's no doubt in my mind Kobe is telling the truth. I believe him a thousand percent.
"I would have respected Dr. Buss more as a man if he would have told me that himself, because I know he said it. But he didn't [tell me]. He never said a damn word to me."
Buss was unavailable for comment Tuesday, as was Kupchak. Buss, 74, was booked early Tuesday for investigation of drunken driving and driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or above.
The Lakers missed the playoffs in the first season after O'Neal was dealt for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and a first-round pick, and have been eliminated in the first round the last two seasons. O'Neal and the Heat won the NBA championship last season.
"Sure, Shaq and I had our issues," Bryant told Smith. "So what! We always did and we won three titles. That doesn't change what was told to me. It doesn't change the fact I never, ever, said to get rid of him."
While Bryant re-signed for $136 million for seven years the day after O'Neal was traded, he has pushed for trades -- he wanted Carlos Boozer, then Jason Kidd, then Ron Artest -- that the Lakers were unable to pull off. Meanwhile, Odom has undergone shoulder surgery but is expected to be ready for training camp in October; Kwame Brown has undergone reconstructive surgery on his left ankle and might not be ready for the start of camp.
And now Bryant, who reportedly has made it clear to the Lakers that he may see fit to terminate his contract in two years, has told Smith he won't continue to wait for Buss to build the roster around him.
"Promises made to make this team better have not been kept," Bryant told Smith. "So where does that leave me?"