from New York Times...
Lakers Seem to Thrive Despite Clashing Egos
By CHRIS BROUSSARD
Published: March 1, 2004
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Feb. 29 — Rick Fox said at the start of the season that the Los Angeles Lakers wanted egos clashing, controversy swirling and a locker room full of disgruntled teammates.
Who needs peace and harmony when you have a 340-pound dunking machine in the middle, the next best thing to Michael Jordan in his prime on the wing, and one of the greatest point guards running the offense?
The Nets can have their love-in now that Byron Scott is gone. Other teams can have players who lob softballs at one another through the news media, exchange gifts at Christmas, share milk and cookies on the road.
The Lakers know this: The N.B.A. is about talent and ability, and they have plenty. It does not appear that bickering and infighting will halt their march toward a fourth championship in the last five seasons.
As far as they are concerned, team harmony is overrated.
"When I'm done practicing, I don't call nobody, I don't worry about what they're doing, I don't care what they're doing," Shaquille O'Neal said after the Lakers' 100-83 victory over the Nets on Sunday. "Just as long as when you come to work, you pass the ball to the open man, play good defense, play together."
As for harmony, O'Neal said: "I think it is overrated, because I know you guys don't like your editors, you don't like your printers, you don't like the delivery people, so I think it is overrated."
If the Lakers do not win it all this season, it will not be because O'Neal and Kobe Bryant repulse each other off the court, or because management broke off discussions with Coach Phil Jackson last month about extending his contract, or because Gary Payton has issues with the triangle offense and what he says is a lack of playing time.
Only injuries will keep the Lakers from celebrating with Champagne and confetti in mid-June, perhaps on the same court they embarrassed the Nets on Sunday night.
Just a few months after O'Neal and Bryant ridiculed each other publicly, a few weeks after Bryant said he did not like Jackson as a person, and a few days after Payton complained about his playing time and his limited role in the offense, the Lakers dunked and frolicked while putting the Nets in a 28-point hole.
The whole Shaq-Kobe feud has become irrelevant. On the court, they flow together like bosom buddies. On Sunday, several of Bryant's 10 assists ended with O'Neal dunks, one of which was thrown down ferociously in the chest of Nets center Jason Collins.
"People don't understand — they're like brothers," Jackson said of O'Neal and Bryant. "They're like Cain and Abel. They're just squabbling over the blood and the fruit. Who's going to have which sacrifice that means the most to God. So they have their little disagreements, but they are very attached in each other's mind in their team way, too.
"I think both of them have been together long enough to have adopted each other's plight and their cares. Sometimes their concern does get personal, but those are normal things you have in a family."
Los Angeles has a 7-1 record since the All-Star Game break, and Bryant has been on a tear. Bryant, who played below his usual standards in the first half of the season, entered Sunday's game averaging 32.9 points, 8.2 rebounds and 8.0 assists in his previous seven games, and he was shooting 54.6 percent.
The explanation for his outburst is simple: Bryant is finally healthy.
"In the off-season, people don't really understand that I had two surgeries," Bryant said. "My first day of working out was the first day of training camp. So it takes a minute to kind of build myself back into physical condition. It's tough to come back from two surgeries."
Payton, the only one of the Lakers' four superstars to play in every game this season, injected himself into the team's soap opera by complaining about his playing time and offensive role over the past few days. After being the focal point of the offense for the better part of his 13 seasons in Seattle, Payton is having trouble adjusting to the triangle offense.
He gets no post-up plays and often does not see the ball after throwing the entry pass to start the Lakers' halfcourt offense. Payton and his agent, Aaron Goodwin, said that he would consider opting out of his contract at the end of this season if things did not change.
Jackson was not worried in the least bit.
"I don't think this affects us at all," he said before the game. "We just go about our business and do what we do."
Payton went about his business as well, scoring 10 of his 16 points in the first quarter to make the controversy go away quickly. After the game, he said he was glad he got his feelings off his chest and that while playing in the triangle was tough, he would make do.
Karl Malone, who has been out since late December with a knee injury, will be back within the next week or two. Then the Lakers will be whole, free to fuss and fight all the way to the title.