Saturday , Jun , 19 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Escape from LA: Big 3 not likely to return

Los Angeles, CA (Sports Network) – The coach, the superstar guard and the
powerful and dominating center all want out of Los Angeles.

Phil Jackson and the Lakers on Friday mutually agreed to part ways, but the
coach was offered another position with the organization, which Jackson will
decide whether or not to accept in the near future.

Meanwhile, guard Kobe Bryant opted out of his contract and will become an
unrestricted free agent on July 1. If that wasn’t enough for one day, center
Shaquille O’Neal has asked to be traded.

Jackson guided the Lakers to championships in his first three seasons with the
club, giving him nine, which tied former Boston coach Red Auerbach for the
most in NBA history. Jackson and the Lakers were recently denied another
title, as the Detroit Pistons beat Los Angeles in five games to win the
2003-04 championship.

The 58-year-old Jackson’s exit appeared imminent prior to his meeting with
Lakers owner Jerry Buss following the coach’s participation in season-ending
interviews earlier in the day.

Jackson’s five-year, $30 million contract expires at the end of the month. He
had been negotiating a contract extension, but the Lakers broke off talks in
February until after the season, which played a part in his decision.

“In my opinion Phil is the best coach in the history of the NBA and he did a
phenomenal job for us these past five years, for which I am very grateful,”
said Buss. “Not only did he help lead us to three more championships, but he
helped the Lakers regain our status as one of the greatest, if not the
greatest, franchises in all of sports. In addition to his success on the
court, Phil was also a pleasure to deal with off the court.”

In 14 seasons as a head coach, Jackson is 832-316 for a .725 winning
percentage — best in NBA history. His 175 playoff wins are the most ever, and
his .717 postseason winning percentage is also the best of any coach.

Jackson coached the Chicago Bulls to six championships from 1991-93 and

Bryant has spent all eight of his NBA seasons with the Lakers. The team will
likely offer him the maximum contract of seven years and more than $140
million. The deal is more money and one year longer than any other team in the
league can offer.

For his career, Bryant has averaged 21.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists
per game.

O’Neal was annoyed after general manager Mitch Kupchak made it clear that
Bryant was more of a priority for the Lakers and that the team would try and
accommodate any trade demands its center had.

Kupchak’s comments about the state of the team apparently irritated O’Neal,
who then immediately requested to be traded.

The 7-1 O’Neal has spent the past eight seasons in Los Angeles after beginning
his career with a four-year stint in Orlando. He has averaged 27.1 points and
12.1 rebounds in his career.