Shaq Wants Trade as Lakers Argue

"It's a different ballclub, it's a different year, we have new players and things change, things evolve," Bryant said. "I improve as a basketball player every day, and I want to show that improvement.

"All we ask from Shaq is to be the dominant presence that he is and play solid defense. That's it. Scoring shouldn't affect his defense. We've been losing games on the defensive end. Offensively, there's nothing wrong with us."

While both are obviously very good, neither has been perfect. Some of the defensive problems have been in transition, after Bryant has taken ill-advised shots. And O'Neal's horrendous foul shooting has hurt at times.

Jackson: Situation Has Affected Team

Jackson said the situation isn't serious, but it could be in the future.

"To blow it up out of proportion over an article that was written two months ago doesn't make any sense to me," he said. "It keeps burning."

Asked if the team's mood has been affected, Jackson said, "Of course. It becomes an irritant."

Jackson said he doesn't blame the media because the NBA mandates too much accessibility to players.

"That daily access sets this up," he said.

He added that he hasn't heard O'Neal say that Bryant is selfish, as O'Neal essentially told reporters.

"He's not vocal with us," the coach said. "That's where it counts. If he wants to say that to you guys, I'll let it ride. I gave him ample opportunity to say that today, and he didn't.

"Shaq is angry; you can see that in his demeanor and hear it in his voice. He's got to find a way to work through that. Anybody who's angry can't perform. Shaq has retreated a lot into himself. Kobe is a joyful personality having a lot of fun on the court."

The Lakers won eight of nine games before being blasted by the Clippers 118-95 last Sunday night. They return to action today against Cleveland before traveling to face Utah on Saturday.

"We don't have to be the best of buddies off the court," Jackson said. "We're pretty comfortable with who we are. We are a team that has to play a certain way. If we do, we're champions. If we don't, we're a good team."

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