After previously saying he had no interest in playing in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, Shaquille O'Neal showed a slight crack in the door Monday if a replacement is needed for the injured Tim Duncan, as USA Basketball officials also indicated Kobe Bryant will receive strong consideration if Grant Hill is unable to play.
There is a stronger likelihood that a roster move will have to be made for Hill, who is recuperating from a broken ankle and subsequent surgery to have a pin inserted. No final decision is imminent, but Russ Granik, deputy commissioner of the NBA and president of USA Basketball, said, "There's a real chance that, unfortunately, he might not be able to play, from what we're hearing."
That could create an opportunity for Bryant. Granik also mentioned Bryant's friend and former Laker teammate, Eddie Jones, as a possibility.
"Right now, I'm not even thinking about the Olympic team," Bryant said. "It's not even in my thought process. My thought process is here in Indiana, taking care of my foot, getting ready for Game 4. After the season, if they consider me for playing on the Olympic team, then I'll think about it."
Bryant emerging as a contender for a spot, if needed, was not a surprise, given his successful season and his prominent role in the league's marketing efforts. But O'Neal leaving open the possibility, however small, that he would consider being a late addition was a surprise, since he originally declined an invitation and had reaffirmed that stance with certainty ever since.
Asked Monday about whether he would be interested in replacing Duncan, he said:
"Probably not. I think they should give somebody else a chance to shine. I have two gold medals, and two is good enough for me."
"Probably not?" someone asked. "Is that leaving the door open?"
"Probably not," O'Neal said.
It may be a moot point anyway. Granik said the committee that oversees the U.S. Olympic basketball program has been told that Duncan's rehabilitation from a knee injury is on schedule and that both sides are "fairly optimistic" he will play in Sydney.
Guard Brian Shaw, thrust into the starting lineup when Coach Phil Jackson decided to hold Bryant out, said he just had a bad game, and that it wasn't any added pressure that caused his three-for-10 shooting in the Game 3 loss Sunday.
Shaw has given the Lakers scoring punch off the bench for most of the postseason, including his three-point barrage in the Lakers' Game 7 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference finals.
"It wasn't a shock," said Shaw, who started only two games in the regular season. "That's what had to happen, based on Kobe's injury.
"I guess it screwed with our rotation a little bit, but that was the main thing. Other than that, it was business as usual. I just didn't play well at all.
"If I hit some shots, then we have chance to win the game. I definitely have to perform a lot better, whether I'm starting or coming off the bench. I took the normal shots that I normally take. They were double-teaming and leaving me open and I just didn't hit shots."
There were far more verbal and pushing exchanges in Game 3 than in the previous two games, which the Lakers did not deny initiating, at least at times.
But they said most of the chippy play was brought on by the Pacers, who were vocal and physical in front of their home fans and finally ahead in an NBA finals' game.
"I think that they got ahead, so they started to act like front-runners," Shaw said. "But whatever they need to do to make themselves feel more confident, that's fine.
"When they got ahead, they celebrated, and when we closed the lead down, they tightened up. Teams have done that when they've gotten ahead on us
"Whatever it takes to make them feel more confident and feel like they're doing something. . . . They didn't really have a whole lot to cheer about before that."