Bryant asks for trade, then backtracks slightly

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.

And later, in another radio interview, he seemed to back away from the demand.

First, Bryant said on 1050 ESPN Radio in New York: "I would like to be traded, yeah. 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."

"[The Lakers] obviously want to move in a different direction in terms of rebuilding," Bryant said, adding he could have opted to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers or Chicago Bulls instead. "Three years ago when I was re-signing they should have told me they wanted to rebuild."

Asked if he had any preference for a trade destination, he said "At this point I'll go play on Pluto."

Bryant talked to Dan Patrick on ESPN Radio and seemed to reconsider slightly.

"I'm so tired of talking," Bryant said. "It's tough. I always dreamed about retiring as a Laker. I just hope and hope that something can be resolved. Something can be figured out. Just something so I can stay here and be in this city and be with the team I love."

Bryant told Patrick he talked to Jackson after talking to Smith and felt resassured.

"When Phil and I spoke, he was optimistic and determined that we'll both be back," Bryant told Patrick. "Phil is somebody I listen to. I lean on him a lot. He assured me things are going to be OK. Things are going to be all right. Don't go full bore just yet. Take a deep breath and let us work these things out and everything will be all right. Which was very encouraging.

"I don't want to go anywhere else. I want to be here for the rest of my career. It was encouraging to hear that."

Later Monday, he had two different messages for the Los Angeles-area media.

"I can only hope that they do something because I don't want to go no place else. I don't want to," he told radio station KLAC. "I want to stay here. I hope they can do something."

Still later, he told the Los Angeles Times in an interview that he wouldn't mind a trade. Speaking at 8:27 p.m. ET, according to the Times, he said: "Nothing's changed. It's just a matter of I don't want to go no place else. I don't have much of a choice. When things like this go down, you just sit back. What can I do? It's like a broken record."

The Times asked Bryant if he still wanted to be traded.

"Yes," he said.

Bryant earned $17.72 million last season and is owed $88.6 million over the next four years. He can terminate his contract following the 2008-09 season -- a move that would leave $47.8 million on the table.

By requesting a trade, Bryant would obviously waive his no-trade
clause, but he has a trade clause in his contract that is believed
to add about $13 million to his total contract value, a cost to be
absorbed by any team that acquires him.

"We are aware of the media reports. However, Kobe has not told us directly that he wants to be traded," Lakers owner Jerry Buss said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. "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."

Earlier in the day, Bryant said 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. Buss, 74, was booked early Tuesday for investigation of drunken driving and driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or above.

Kupchak, at the NBA pre-draft camp in Orlando, declined comment when asked about it by ESPN.com's Andy Katz. Kupchak said Buss was the only person speaking for the Lakers' organization on the matter.

Bryant told KLAC that he was upset the Lakers hadn't been honest with him when he signed his extension.

"They said nothing to me about a long-term plan. Absolutely
nothing," Bryant said. "They told [Lakers coach] Phil [Jackson] one thing and they
told me another. Actions speak louder than words."

Bryant told Patrick having West back with the Lakers would console him. "That would definitely help out the situation," he said. "I want to feel like there's somebody up there I can trust. Phil is one of those people. I have an idea who said it. I'm not going to get into speculation ... I know who's the insider."

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?"

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.