Shaquille O'Neal hopes the NBA lockout doesn't intrude on the start of the season, but "if it starts getting ugly, then maybe some of the major players in this league will have to step up."

Don't expect O'Neal to be one of them. The Los Angeles Lakers center has no plans to get involved in NBA politics."I really don't know what they're fighting about," said O'Neal, who signed with the Lakers for $120 million two seasons ago. "I make good money and I'm happy with my life."

The NBA and the players union will resume negotiations Aug. 6 to end the lockout, which is more than three weeks old.

"Hopefully, this will all end," he said.

One of the issues the sides disagree on is the Larry Bird rule, which allows teams to exceed the salary cap to sign their own free agents. The league wants it weakened and the players don't.

"I would love for them to keep the Larry Bird clause," O'Neal said during a break on the set of a Nickelodeon television episode he's directing. "Everything else they're fighting about, I don't really get involved. That's for agents and stuff to worry about. Things I can't control, I don't ever, ever worry about. That's called stress."

But just as quickly, O'Neal recalls his stepfather, a former Army sergeant, used to tell him to "be a leader, don't be a follower." The contradiction doesn't seem to bother him.

O'Neal isn't getting paid during the lockout, but he's making money for his TV directing debut, which will air this fall as part of the "Cousin Skeeter" series on Nickelodeon.

"I thought I was only getting $500, but I'm getting much more," he said.

Like many others, O'Neal wonders if Michael Jordan will retire rather than play for someone other than Phil Jackson. Jordan said he'll wait until the lockout ends to announce his plans.

"I hope he doesn't leave. I hope he comes back because in order to be a champion you must beat a champion. I would like to play that role," O'Neal said. "Michael Jordan is the greatest player in the world. I can say that truthfully, even though I want to be right where he's at. Certain guys wouldn't tell you that because of so-called ego, but I don't have an ego."

One role often mentioned for O'Neal is as Jordan's successor, the player everyone in the world looks to. He isn't buying it.

"There's a lot of great players around this league, but there'll never be a next. There was never a next Magic (Johnson), there was never a next Bird. There will never be a next Michael," O'Neal said.

"But in this society we live in, in order for me to get my proper respect I'm probably going to have to outdo all those guys."

Jordan helped the Bulls win six NBA championships; O'Neal has yet to win one.

"I'll probably have to win seven championships," he said. "I guess if I don't win it, I may be the lousiest big man ever."