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O'Neal's Exit Meeting to Be Just a Little Late

May 31, 2003|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

Shaquille O'Neal intends to sit down with Laker management next week for an exit meeting more than two weeks late, a team official said Friday.

When the Laker season ended abruptly May 15, in the Western Conference semifinals after three consecutive NBA championships, players were asked to attend brief conferences with Coach Phil Jackson and his staff.

O'Neal did not sign up for a time slot and did not show up on the day of the meetings, May 17. Jackson labeled O'Neal's absence "disrespectful."

O'Neal remains in Los Angeles, however, and has sent word that Jackson should expect him next week, on a day not yet specified.

The Laker center had said Thursday night that he was wrong to skip the season-ending meeting and that he hoped to remedy his error.

"I didn't go to the meeting and I'll take the punishment like a man," O'Neal told Fox Sports Net during an affair celebrating his involvement with the Port Authority police. "I don't make excuses and I'll never talk back. I'll never embarrass Phil. I messed up and when I mess up, I'll always clean up."

O'Neal had had a trying season, which began with foot surgery just before the start of the season, causing him to sit out the first 12 games and then struggle through the middle months. He also was heavier than previously, leading perhaps to a sore knee, which bothered him through the playoffs. Then he missed the final meeting.

"It's disrespectful to us as a staff," Jackson said then. "We wanted this and we felt it was important as a team. It's important for closure.... And it's adult responsibility to do that."

Two days later, Jackson said of O'Neal's summer program, "Conditioning is really going to be it. The dedication. It's about discipline and dedication. Whether or not it results in numbers, I don't care. I care about the discipline and the dedication."

O'Neal, who this week completed the last of his training, a driving course, to become a Port Authority police officer, had said late in the season that he would seek to return in better shape next season. There is more motivation: O'Neal is eligible for a three-year, $121.5-million contract extension in September, which the Lakers might be more inclined to consider were O'Neal to take up Jackson on his philosophies of "discipline and dedication."

Through his agent, O'Neal declined to comment Friday. O'Neal will be in Los Angeles for another week or two, then plans to return to his off-season home in Orlando, his agent, Perry Rogers, said.

*

Owner Jerry Buss has denied permission for at least two teams to speak to General Manager Mitch Kupchak about their own vacancies, according to club spokesman John Black. Portland, Washington and Atlanta have openings at general manager.... The Lakers must exercise the $5.3-million option on Robert Horry by June 30.

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