It was a suggestion made by some hack in L.A..

According to the article, if the Lakers have to make a decision about which of the big 2 to keep this summer, Kobe would be the man and Shaq would be sent packing. Who was suggested in exchange? It was none other than our Jermaine O'Neal.

At this point the question for the Lakers is not who is leaving but will anyone from this year's roster stay?

Fate of team lies with Bryant

By Howard Beck , Staff Writer L.A. Daily News

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, long after the Detroit Pistons danced and the Lakers splintered, players, coaches, executives, friends and family gathered one last time in a hotel ballroom, where Lakers owner Jerry Buss provided the food and drink, and perhaps began to lay the mental groundwork for his franchise's next phase.
The crowd at the Townsend in Birmingham, Mich. thinned through the hours, until just three figures remained: Buss, Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone.

Imagination can take over from there.

Among those who roam the Lakers front office, and those who have regular contact with it, the belief is universal: Buss will do everything in his power to retain Bryant, the NBA's most dynamic star, if also its most troubled.

Over the next two weeks, Bryant will make a court appearance in Colorado and announce he is opting out of his Lakers contract, making him a free agent.

Having turned down maximum- value extensions for two years, Bryant will be offered the most the Lakers can pay under NBA rules: $140 million over seven years. Before accepting it, Bryant will listen to offers from coast to coast, and at every stop, he will be dictating more than financial terms. No team, including the Lakers, can make an offer until July 1.

At 25, a six-time all-star and a free agent for the first time, Bryant will be in position to exercise ultimate leverage over potential employers, and is expected to do so.

Sometime soon, then, the Lakers may well become Kobe's Team in every possible way. The coach will be Bryant's to choose. The roster, his to shape. The offense, his to run.

If that means jettisoning coach Phil Jackson or former MVP Shaquille O'Neal, Buss is prepared to do it, sources say. But Bryant's agenda is not as simple and clear as any of that, nor is the Lakers' off-season agenda.


General manager Mitch Kupchak huddled with his staff Wednesday afternoon, declining to discuss the Lakers' murky future. He will meet with the media today, then begin a series of exit meetings with players this afternoon and Friday.

The Lakers must file their protected list for next week's expansion draft sometime today. Rick Fox and Jamal Sampson are top candidates to be left unprotected. The team will not have to protect Malone, who declined to exercise his option Wednesday and became a free agent.

Derek Fisher will probably be the next to go that route, followed by Bryant.

The most pressing free agency issue, however, is Jackson's.

Bryant has alternately battled Jackson and O'Neal for control of the team for the past five years. He might like to be rid of both of them, but given a choice, would coexist with Jackson more easily than O'Neal, team insiders say.


So the door is open, however slightly, for Jackson to return. But he practically announced his retirement late Tuesday night at the Palace of Auburn Hills, after the Pistons crushed the Lakers to win the championship. He stopped short of saying anything absolute.

It is not clear whether Buss wants Jackson back, and not just because of a desire to cater to Bryant. Sources say Buss grew impatient with Jackson's equivocating about whether he wanted to continue coaching, felt spurned by his refusal to accept a contract extension earlier this season and was put off by Jackson's decision to conduct all negotiations through his agent.

Some believe Jackson has grown ambivalent about the job, about the annual struggle of getting Bryant to conform and O'Neal to exert consistent effort. His outer calm this season belied the immense strain imposed on him by the Lakers' dysfunction.

The legal drama engulfing Bryant was a greater burden on the team, and Jackson, than anyone cares to acknowledge publicly. Compounding the stress was the individual agenda of Gary Payton and the 10-week loss of Malone to a knee injury, robbing the team of its most influential leader.

Jackson and his staff are under contract through June 30. They will meet this morning in El Segundo and will assist with next week's draft, but Jackson does not plan to speak publicly until he has decided his future.

There has been no contact between Jackson's representatives and Buss, although agent Todd Musberger will be in Los Angeles on Monday to meet with Jackson.

In the awkward aftermath of Tuesday's loss, as players began saying their good-byes, Fisher and Fox were the most emotional, the most tearful. They are the only remaining role players from the teams that got swept in Utah and San Antonio, that survived all the early heartbreak of the Shaq-Kobe era before Jackson arrived and began weaving championships out of chaos.

They may be the next to go, Fisher via free agency and Fox perhaps via retirement.

Malone became the first player to cut ties with the organization Wednesday, when he declined to exercise a $1.65 million option for next season. The move does not necessarily signal an end to his career, but a desire to be better compensated if he returns.

"If he decides to play again, the magnanimous, generous act that he did this year does not need to be repeated,' said agent Dwight Manley, referring to Malone's decision to accept a below-market salary last summer.

That move allowed the Lakers to use their $4.9 million exception to sign Payton.

"That was a one-year gift, not a two-year gift,' Manley said.

If Malone returns, he would be seeking all or part of the midlevel exception, expected to be around $5 million. He has said he will only play for the Lakers, and then only if his injured right knee can return to 100 percent strength by the fall.

A team charter carried most of the Lakers back to Los Angeles on Wednesday morning. Fisher, who is close to Pistons forward Corliss Williamson, stayed behind. A private jet carried Bryant, Malone and Manley back to Newport Beach.

Mere hours into the summer, they had already begun going their separate ways.