For Phil Jackson, it's time to come in from the playground. Recess is over.
The Los Angeles Lakers coach said Thursday he's going to take a firmer grip on his team after superstars Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant took their long-simmering feud public.
Jackson said he faced similar problems with the Chicago Bulls when he guided them to six championships during the 1990s.
"I just have to take the order over; it's my job," he said. "That's my responsibility, to find the collaborative effort to put the best team on the court."
Jackson expressed annoyance with the NBA and the media, as well as the two players involved.
"This is really juvenile stuff, sandbox stuff," he said. "It's silly."
Bryant Wants to Turn His Game Up
Perhaps the NBA's two best players, O'Neal and Bryant have had their ups and downs since joining the Lakers in 1996, but they led the team to its first championship in 12 years last June.
The Lakers survived a rough stretch last season when they lost six of nine games, capped by a 103-81 loss at San Antonio last Feb. 1. But they closed the regular season by going 33-4.
Although the Lakers have struggled at times this season, no major problems were evident until comments Bryant made two months ago for an article in ESPN The Magazine were made public Tuesday. (ESPN The Magazine, like ABCNEWS.com, is owned by the Walt Disney Co.)
Bryant was quoted as recounting a conversation with Jackson in which the coach privately asked him to continue making O'Neal the focal point of the offense.
"Turn my game down? I need to turn it up. I've improved. How are you going to bottle me up?" Bryant told the magazine.
Bryant even talked about perhaps playing elsewhere, although he said this week he was "going to be a Laker for life."
Jackson said he remembered telling Bryant in November: "If you're not going to be happy here as a player, then I would want to move you on, if you can't be happy coexisting with Shaq."
‘I Don’t Have to Coexist With Anybody’
O'Neal responded by pointing to the success of last season, when the Lakers won an NBA-high 67 games en route to the championship.
"Now, we're 23-11," he said. "So you figure it out. I'm a proven commodity. I don't have to coexist with anybody. When everything went through me, the outcome was good."
The Los Angeles Times reported today that O'Neal told Jackson and general manager Mitch Kupchak after a Dec. 28 game at Phoenix that he wanted to be traded.
Kupchak told the Times he did not take the demand seriously. It was made after the Lakers defeated the Suns 115-78.
He said he believed O'Neal was merely venting his season-long frustration with the offense in general and Bryant in particular. O'Neal, who signed a three-year, $88.4-million extension in October, has not followed up, Kupchak said.
"You have to take the conversation for what the moment was," Kupchak said. "Never for a second did I consider it. This is something that will be worked out. There haven't been and there will be no discussions about trading anyone. Period."
Both Players Have Made Mistakes
O'Neal won the NBA scoring championship, came within one vote of becoming the league's first unanimous MVP ever, and was the MVP of the NBA Finals.
Bryant, the current NBA scoring leader who has taken 171 shots more than O'Neal, said Wednesday his teammate was living in the past.