California dreamin' (cont.)
Posted: Monday August 6, 2007 9:04AM; Updated: Monday August 6, 2007 7:30PM
While Bryant has had little to no interaction with his teammates this offseason, he and O'Neal have found a common ground in their respective positions. Both are leading rebuilding squads in the prime of their careers without enough help around them.
"I think Kobe's in a position right now where he understands that he needs some help," O'Neal said. "He needs some help to get to the position where he wants to be. I think he's the best player in the NBA and the world, but obviously no player can do it by himself. He has a nice group around him, but he needs some help and I can give him some support. ... He wants to prove to people that he can get back to the NBA championship, and I'm at a point in my career where I want to prove to people that I can help a team get to the championship."
While some have suggested that O'Neal might not be the player he once was, he said that had more to do with injuries, including a left groin tear and a torn meniscus in his left knee, than diminished skills.
"What people don't realize when they consider my last three years to be 'down years' is that I was physically hurt," said O'Neal, who missed 82 games during that stretch. "I went out and played on knees I needed to take care of. My meniscus, I put that off for two years [before having surgery in April]. I'm 100 percent right now. I really want an opportunity to rejuvenate myself. At 28, I'm going into my prime. The game is slowing down for me, I understand it a lot more, so I'm ready to go out and show people what I could really do."
O'Neal, who admits he hasn't always seen eye-to-eye with the direction Bird has taken the team, has been in constant contact with the Pacers during the offseason. He's spent the majority of his time at home in Indiana and away from the spotlight while his name is bandied about in various trade talks.
"I've had quite a few conversations with the Pacers," he said. "I just wanted to see where the organization's focus was with the team. If they're trying to rebuild, maybe it's better to get younger pieces [in a trade] for me so they could grow with the young guys. I just told them that I can't be in a rebuilding mode right now. I can't go through that. Physically that's going to wear on me too much to do that."
After the charity game, played at USC's Galen Center, O'Neal, who didn't play, smiled and laughed as Lakers fan after Lakers fan, including Snoop Dogg, tried to persuade the five-time All-Star to come to Los Angeles. It's a plea he's heard many times before but one that especially hit home this time as he contemplated the end of his seven-year career in Indiana.
"I tried not to come out here this year. I wanted to stay away from a lot of the talk because it's an emotional time for me to talk about being traded," he said. "I get emotional talking about it because I always told Reggie [Miller] I'd win a championship for him, and for whatever reason we've had some tough times up there [in Indiana]. I thought if I came out here [to Los Angles], it would help persuade me to make the decision that I need to make. My decision is for me to get better as a player, and if things don't work out this year, I have an option in my contract next year and I will opt out and become a free agent."
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