Shaq clarifies remarks about LA return

Call it denial by telephone game. That’s probably the best way to explain the way Shaquille O’Neal tried to explain his way out of some of the comments attributed to him regarding a potential return to Los Angeles after his current contract is up in 2010.

Here’s what Shaq told the Arizona Republic on Wednesday:

With public perception already settled, O’Neal was questioned Wednesday even though the original interview never asked him specifically about free agency in 2010. (He was asked about the idea of playing for the Lakers and declined to respond out of respect to the Suns.)

Asked, “Would you rule out going back to the Lakers?” by the Bee, O’Neal said: “I don’t know. I don’t really think that far ahead. I know I’ve got two years left and then at the end of the two years, I’ll just look at my options.”

O’Neal reiterated as much Wednesday, saying, “I have a great relationship with Steve Kerr. When I’m done here, we’ll see what happens. Going back that way, no, it never came out of my mouth.”

Part of the problem it seems, is that the Bee reporter, Scott Howard Cooper, interviewed Shaq during the preseason and but didn’t publish the comments until last week, causing Shaq some confusion about where they came from.

He continued denying comments, not realizing the source until the end, saying, “Oh, that’s who said that (expletive)? Scott (Howard-Cooper)? I didn’t know it was Scott.”

The transcript included O’Neal saying he believed Jackson designed the rift between O’Neal and Bryant to drive each other because Jackson never told them to stop. O’Neal said it as if to compliment Jackson for pushing them and reflected fondly on his Lakers years as “fun.”

“Phil has always done right by me,” O’Neal said Wednesday. “We had a great relationship.

“It would be idiotic for me to say something bad about him.”