In a telephone interview, O'Neal said that he didn't think Bryant ever appealed to Lakers management to keep the team together, though Bryant maintained at a news conference earlier this month that he could have played with O'Neal next season. And O'Neal made it clear that he believes Bryant wanted him out of Los Angeles.
"Be careful what you wish for, buddy," O'Neal said several times during the 15-minute conversation.
Asked if Bryant ever lobbied for him or for Phil Jackson, O'Neal said, "Probably not. I think he would have made it vocal. He never said anything, Magic (Johnson, the Hall of Famer and Lakers' minority owner) never said anything. Nobody ever said anything. They're having a press conference, and I'm at home eating cereal, and I see Phil's getting fired. And then Mitch (Kupchak, the general manager) had his little press conference. I knew things were going to be different. I'm loyal to Phil. I couldn't see myself playing for Mike Krzyzewski."
O'Neal said that he thought Jackson would retire after the season, and went to Lakers management during the season with the idea of hiring Rudy Tomjanovich as head coach if Jackson decided to call it quits. O'Neal says he never heard from anyone about Tomjanovich or George Karl, whom O'Neal says was his second choice to replace Jackson.
Asked what he thought about the Lakers now, O'Neal said, "I think it's very funny. We are the No. 1 team, and instead of keeping the No. 1 team, they break it up and we have to start over ... and the Lakers traded the Diesel and got Vlade Divac.
"Wow. Wow. Wow."
The 32-year-old O'Neal said that with the relative lack of talent in the Eastern Conference, he may have "six dominant years" left in him.
"The West is loaded," he said. "Denver's got Kenyon Martin and 'Melo (Carmelo Anthony). San Antonio's got "(Tim) Duncan and (Tony) Parker. Minnesota's got KG (Kevin Garnett). Sac's got (Chris) Webber and (Mike) Bibby. In the East, all they've got is the two O'Neal boys (himself and Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal)."
He has already met with Heat coach Stan Van Gundy. ("He asked me, 'What do you want?,' " O'Neal said. "I think he thought I was gonna say, 'I need to average 30 points.' All I told him was 'When I get it in my danger zone, I'm gonna go to work.") And while the Heat don't seem to have enough talent to compete in the East with the defending champion Pistons or Pacers, O'Neal says he's confident with the players on the roster right now.
"We're gonna be straight," O'Neal said. "I was down here the other day working out with the kid from Vanderbilt we got (second-round pick Matt Freije), and I told him, 'I'm gonna come across the block, and if I get doubled, I'm gonna pass the ball to you and you're gonna have a wide-open jumper, or (forward) Udonis Haslem is gonna come down the lane and he's gonna get a dunk, and you're all gonna get big contracts.' He said, 'What do you mean?' I said, 'Just look at the history. Travis Knight. Horace Grant. A.C. Green.' He said, 'Shaq, you're one of the coolest guys I've met.' "
O'Neal said he plans to come to training camp in October at somewhere around 345 pounds, about what he weighed at the start of last season. He will be spending his summer, he said, at 24-Hour Fitness Clubs throughout the Miami area. O'Neal will be a pitchman for the national chain and will lend his name to "Shaq Sport Clubs" throughout Miami. He said he would be hiring another personal trainer from the 24-Hour chain to work with him. Last summer, O'Neal used Cory Gilday, a trainer from the chain that moved to Orlando to be near O'Neal's offseason home. O'Neal lost 15 pounds before the season began.
O'Neal said he was healthy throughout last season, and that his surgically repaired big toe gives him no problems. He says he plans to work on the treadmill and stair climber for 1½ hours twice a day.
"I'm just working my ass off with cardio," he said. "Whenever I do weights I get big, and people get nervous when they hear that big number."
David Aldridge, who covers the NBA for ESPN, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.