DALLAS — Mavericks owner Mark Cuban loves to poke and prod the Lakers. Witness his Kobe Bryant "amnesty" comments a few days ago.
But Cuban said it hasn't been as entertaining to zing the Lakers since former coach Phil Jackson and, yes, Shaquille O'Neal left.
"It's nowhere near as fun. They would always take the bait," Cuban said Sunday.
Of course, that was before Bryant wrote "Amnesty THAT" on Twitter after ripping through Dallas for 38 points in the Lakers' 103-99 victory Sunday.
The NBA is debating whether to fine Cuban for saying Friday that the Lakers should consider waiving Bryant next season via the one-time amnesty provision. The Lakers would still have to pay Bryant his $30.5-million salary next season but would save the corresponding amount, if not slightly more, in luxury taxes.
Bryant, by the way, said he was "very appreciative" of the way the Lakers spent money on player payroll in recent seasons, trying to surround him with enough talent to get his sixth championship.
"It's one of those franchises, they really take care of their own," he said Sunday.
He also had some advice for Cuban.
"I'm sure if he wants to amnesty Dirk [Nowitzki], that's something that we'll entertain," Bryant said, smiling.
Cuban recently said he would not try to avoid paying luxury taxes next season by waiving Nowitzki and his $22.7-million salary this summer.
Jousting with the Lakers isn't a first for Cuban.
He and Jackson jabbed each other through the media for years, starting in 2000 when Cuban chided the Lakers for not spending enough during an uncharacteristically slow off-season.
Jackson replied that Cuban should "keep his mouth shut," starting a battle that eventually saw Cuban call Jackson "my bucket boy" and Jackson make fun of Cuban's "sun-tanned face."
Cuban fenced with O'Neal back in the early 2000s, poking fun at his free-throw shooting and weight.
Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni doesn't expect to be getting a contribution from Pau Gasol later in the regular season.
"I think by the time he gets back we'll either be in or out. So his impact will be in the playoffs if we can get there," D'Antoni said.
Gasol missed his eighth game Sunday because of an internal tear in the bottom of his right foot. Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak recently said Gasol would be back next month, though the official timetable released by the team at the time of his injury said it might not be until April.
The Lakers' last regular-season game is April 17 against Houston.
Gasol was benched down the stretch in a few games and then lost his starting role, but it didn't mean the Lakers' coach wouldn't want him back as soon as possible.
"Definitely, the menu of offensive stuff that you can do [with him], he expands it a lot," D'Antoni said recently. "You have to shrink it without him. [He] helps some plays because he can facilitate so well, we'll get a lot better shots. He's a tough guard, no doubt, just because of his play-making ability. That's what we miss more than anything."
Bryant picked up his 13th technical foul this season while arguing a non-call in the first quarter against Dallas. If he gets to a 16th, he will be suspended one game.
It's almost an annual tap dance for Bryant the last several years. He'll come close to the max and then chill out, never being suspended for too many technicals in a season.
Can he limit himself to two over the final 25 regular-season games?
"It's a little nerve-racking," Bryant said sarcastically. "I don't know if I can control myself."
If the Lakers make the playoffs, Bryant's technical total resets to zero.