Shaquille O'Neal's book blames exit from Lakers on Mitch Kupchak
The name-calling continues.
Most of the excerpts surrounding Shaquille O'Neal's book focused on his clashing with Kobe Bryant. It followed with brutally honest remarks about LeBron James' playoff struggles and belittling comments about Dwight Howard. O'Neal reserves the harshest criticism, however, for Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak.
O'Neal speaks of Kupchak in only six pages of the 281-page "Shaq Uncut: My Story," co-written by Jackie MacMullan, slated for a Nov. 15 release. But that's enough prose to label Kupchak as the main culprit behind Shaq's hasty departure from the Lakers.
According to the book, Kupchak promised to grant Shaq a contract extension following the 2003-04 season and not to discuss their contract negotiations publicly. Once the 2003-04 season ended, however, O'Neal was disturbed by an apparent interview in which Kupchak revealed the Lakers' plan to hold onto Bryant while keeping their options open with O'Neal.
"That was it. That was the end of me in a Lakers uniform. Mitch broke our agreement. How could I trust him again?" Shaq writes in the book. "For months, I kept waiting for Mitch to come to me and say, 'Shaq, you're getting older, we need some new players. Mr. Buss doesn't want to pay you and Kobe doesn't want you here.' But that conversation never happened. So that was when I demanded a trade. I couldn't trust Mitch anymore and it was clear Kobe was now the one with all the power."
That sounds both simplistic and inaccurate. O'Neal's trade to the Miami Heat for Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and a first-round draft pick wasn't the result of just one interview by Kupchak. O'Neal's clashes with Bryant were inescapable. Phil Jackson, whom Shaq writes about in a respectful tone in the book, was let go after the Lakers' 2004 NBA Finals loss to Detroit. And Shaq didn't exactly remain on Buss' good side. During an exhibition game in Honolulu, Shaq loudly yelled to Buss to "pay me." Skeptical of O'Neal's injury history, work ethic and $30-million-a-year asking price, Buss also remained reluctant to grant him an extension.
Still, Shaq says, he no longer felt any support from the Lakers' front office once Kupchak succeeded Jerry West after the 1999-2000 season.
"Once you deal with someone like Jerry West, you better come up with someone pretty special to keep my attention," O'Neal writes. "Unfortunately, Mitch wasn't that guy for me. We never got along. Mitch looked out for two people: himself and Jerry Buss. The rest of us were afterthoughts."
— Mark Medina
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Photo: Shaquille O'Neal writes that he never felt any support from Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times