Kupchak: We Won’t Deal Bryant

Times Staff Writer

Laker General Manager Mitch Kupchak said Thursday he would not accept a sign-and-trade offer for Kobe Bryant under any circumstances -- a hard line against the likes of New York Knick General Manager Isiah Thomas and Bryant agent Rob Pelinka -- but might be forced to listen to bids for Shaquille O’Neal.

A sign-and-trade arrangement would allow Bryant to get maximum money over seven years and still leave the Lakers.

“We’re not going to trade Kobe,” Kupchak said. “We’re just not going to do it. Period.”

Asked if he’d risk getting nothing in return if Bryant chose to leave the Lakers, Kupchak said, “He’s going to have to just go.”

Asked why, he said, “Because we’re not going to trade him. We’re going to do everything we can to keep him.”


And if they can’t, he said, “Well, we’re not going to do a sign-and-trade.”

The general manager insisted he believed Bryant eventually would re-sign with the Lakers, who by collective bargaining agreement guidelines will offer a longer and richer contract than any other team.

“Part of it is based on conversations I’ve had with him,” Kupchak said. “I talk to his representative. I take a step back and I try to look at the complete landscape of what makes sense. Can I imagine a player of Kobe’s caliber in a different city with a different financial situation ... and what we can do financially? I think those are all my factors. That’s not to say when July 1 rolls around he may or may not make a recruiting trip or two. That might result in sleepless nights for me and a lot of people in Los Angeles.

“I’ll be concerned, just as New Jersey was last year with Jason Kidd. We don’t know.”

O’Neal’s situation is different. He cannot leave the Lakers until after next season, but he has grumbled about demanding a trade if his contract is not extended or if the roster quality falls below his expectations.

O’Neal has interpreted owner Jerry Buss’ in-season remarks as support for Bryant at the expense of Jackson and himself. So he would be unhappy if Jackson left, his contract went untouched and it appeared the organization was shifting its emphasis to Bryant.

To that, Kupchak said Thursday that if O’Neal came to him with a trade demand, he would have to consider it.

“He can dominate this game for years to come still,” Kupchak said. “But that’s something he has to decide to do. As you do age, it becomes harder and harder to do that. That’s probably a big question he has to address.”

Asked then if he foresaw a day he would trade O’Neal, Kupchak said, “Well, um, he has a lot to do with that as well. OK? That would not be a good day in this club’s history. We do plan to talk to him. As you know, there’s another existing issue with Shaquille, the extension.... Those are issues that do have to be addressed. I have not addressed them ... with his representative in the last month or two. That’s probably something that’s going to come up.”

By Thursday evening, according to team sources, O’Neal had been relayed Kupchak’s remarks, took them to mean the Lakers were eager to trade him, and as a result canceled an exit meeting scheduled for today with Kupchak and Jackson.


Derek Fisher is expected to notify the team today that he will opt out of next year’s contract and become a free agent.... The Lakers protected eight players for Tuesday’s expansion draft. Rick Fox and Jamal Sampson were not on the list, according to a league source. Sampson was a bit of a surprise, given his age, 21, and potential for a team lacking front-court players.... Horace Grant, Bryon Russell, Brian Cook, Luke Walton and Sampson had exit meetings Thursday. Grant expressed a desire to return, though he’d need hip surgery to do it.