Buss Expects Bryant to Stay

Times Staff Writer

Kobe Bryant has said he will opt out of his contract and then just might leave Shaquille O'Neal and the Lakers behind this summer, but owner Jerry Buss does not believe it.

Therefore, Buss, who speaks often of the organization and those in it as his extended family, said Sunday night that he would not approve a trade of Bryant, apparently not in any circumstance.

"I'm not about to trade my son," Buss said. "Kobe is clearly going to end up on a level that maybe only two or three other players have achieved, and I want to be around to see him when he reaches his peak, which is still many years away."

As he does annually, Buss met with reporters Sunday evening in an upstairs conference room at Staples Center. Buss, who was wearing a blue floral shirt, faded blue jeans and Nike sneakers, said he expected to sign O'Neal and Phil Jackson to rich contract extensions -- though he admitted that he had hoped that Jackson would come to him personally for negotiations instead of sending his lawyer. He also said that he'd hungered for Gary Payton for many years, that he is continuing to groom his children to become the next generation of Laker ownership, and that he is deeply troubled by Bryant's legal situation.

"I felt a lot of pain for him," he said, just as "a father experiences tremendous pain for the problems his son is having."

Still, Buss laughed easily during a 20-minute conversation, once marveling at the sight of O'Neal, Bryant, Payton and Karl Malone together in Laker uniforms, and then saying the recent Bryant-O'Neal quarrel was mild compared with those in which his sons engaged when they were young.

"If you raise children, you get kind of used to those things," he said. "I guess I can't get involved or alarmed by it. I have probably the best general manager [Mitch Kupchak] in the business. I have probably the best coach in the business. That's their jobs, to take care of those things. My job is to sit up in the box and let them win."

As Buss, 70, embarks on his 25th season as Laker owner, he faces a possible roster overhaul in July, among a handful of issues.

Jackson is in the final season of a five-year, $30-million contract. And with Buss courtside in Hawaii, O'Neal made a huge show of his desire for an extension. An extension for Bryant has been on the table for 16 months, long enough that the original three-year offer has, per the collective-bargaining agreement, become a four-year offer.

"I certainly hope -- you can put that in capital letters if you like -- that Kobe re-signs. I guess my basic feeling is this is where he belongs," Buss said. "I have faith that when it comes time, Kobe will be signed."

Jackson and O'Neal will get their contracts too, Buss said, and each will become the highest-paid in their fields, probably important to both.

"I don't think it was at all obvious until just recently that [Jackson] wanted to continue to coach a few more years," Buss said.

"Once he said that, it becomes a negotiation," he said. "He sends his agent in, I send my man in, and they hammer it out. I would have preferred, quite honestly, to sit down with him and just work out the contract. But if he prefers the agent versus my agent, then that's the way it'll have to be. He set the stage, so there's really nothing I can do about it."

Had it been only the two of them in the office above the practice floor in El Segundo, Buss said, "I can't help but think" that the extension would have been signed by now. "But there's certainly no guarantees on that," Buss said. "That's a guess."

There is no doubt that he would have Jackson return, Buss said, and Jackson said late in training camp that he assumes that he will be back, probably with a two- or three-year deal.

"I could never turn down the winningest coach in history," Buss said.


Bill Walton, on a day off, watched the Lakers play the Golden State Warriors from press row. He wore a Laker gold T-shirt.... Slava Medvedenko (bruised heel) sat out his third game and is not expected to play Tuesday in Milwaukee.... The Lakers leave today on a four-game trip through Milwaukee, San Antonio, New Orleans and Memphis. By the end of it, they'll have played six games in six cities over 10 days. They'll return to play eight of 10 games at Staples Center.

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