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So Long, Shaq...
It's still almost impossible to believe. The Lakers have traded Shaq? For real?
The Washington Post broke the news first, that the Lakers and Miami Heat have agreed to a trade which will send Shaq to South Beach for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant, and a future draft pick. The deal is still pending league approval.
Before we break down this deal, LAist would like to take the opportunity to berate both Shaq and Kobe for their sheer pettiness.
Their inability to sacrifice even a modest amount of ego for the greater good has ended a NBA dynasty (and dynasties don't grow on trees, guys). Both players are considerably further away from a championship now than they were a few weeks ago, and neither may ever win a title again. Perhaps that's what Shaq and Kobe deserve for their utter refusal to share the limelight and work as co-stars to become truly great players on a truly great team.
"If it really is a done deal, it's something that didn't have to happen," Derek Fisher told the Los Angeles Times. "It's unfortunate because we've had something very special."
It's difficult to spin this deal in any way that's positive. The Lakers did not get equal value for Shaq. They did not even get close to equal value. They were pinned into a corner, and every team low-balled them.
Dallas and Mark Cuban should be ashamed for refusing to give up Dirk Nowitzki. Sure, Dirk is a great player, but he also doesn't play defense. A trade of Dirk, Antoine Walker, and Christian Laettner for Shaq would give the Mavs a lineup of Shaq, Michael Finley, Jerry Stackhouse, Josh Howard, Devin Harris, and Marquis Daniels, and would make them a title contender. Instead the Mavs without Steve Nash (and Antawn Jamison whom they inexplicably traded away) will be lucky to make the playoffs in the West next year. If the Lakers had done the deal with Dallas, then Laettner and Walker would have come off the books in a year, and the Lakers would have had cap space to add a third top player to compliment Kobe and Dirk, putting them back near the top of the basketball world.
The Lakers also might have wanted to work a deal with Sacramento which would net them say, Chris Webber, Brad Miller, and Doug Christie or Bobby Jackson for Shaq. The Kings would still have an amazing team with Mike Bibby, Peja Stojakovic, and Shaq while a Laker lineup of Kobe, Webber, Brad Miller, and Christie/Jackson is probably the best total talent package they could have managed. But the Lakers did not necessarily want to help a rival, and that left the Heat as the most viable option.
The good news for the Lakers is that this deal with the Heat makes them younger and more athleticsomething they obviously needed to be during the Finals. Lamar Odom is a special talent (a pseudo-combination of Scottie Pippen and a poor man's Kevin Garnett), who after having all kinds of off the court issues from college eligibility at UNLV and Rhode Island to drug problems with the Clippers, finally seemed to have found himself in Miami, making the Olympic team and playing a lead role on the Heat's surprise success this year. Last year Odom begged his way out of Los Angeles, and desperately wanted to play on the east coast. It remains to be seen if he'll like LA more as a Laker. Perhaps he could be content playing a Scottie Pippen role next to Kobe's Jordan role.
Caron Butler is a solid player, who did regress in his second year in the NBA and has had injury trouble. He's still a nice player to have around at $2 million a year.
Brian Grant is a stiff, who only had two good years in Portland, and cashed in at nearly $15 million a year. He's only an average rebounder who can't even come close to matching up with Elton Brand on the boards.
So, while the Lakers are younger and more athletic, they're also lacking serious size up front, and thanks to Brian Grant's ridiculous salary, they won't have cap room to acquire a legit big man until 2007 at the earliest. This lineup likely will convince Karl Malone to retire, so that makes Vlade Divac the best big man on the market right now. Divac has expressed an interest in returning to the Lakers, but this Vlade is a shell of his former self, which isn't saying a whole lot.
If Kobe Bryant doesn't re-sign with the Lakers now, then Mitch Kupchak probably should be fired. Kobe could still easily look at the Clippers with Brand and Maggette and think that it might provide a better chance for success than a Laker team with Odom and Butler. Suddenly the Lakers will find themselves rebuilding around Lamar Odom, which makes them seem a lot like the Clippers.
Mitch Kupchak is a solid GM, a disciple of Jerry West, who can do an excellent job under ordinary circumstances. But these are extraordinary circumstances in Laker land, in which probably no GM could succeed, but as Mark Heisler points out in the LA Times, the Lakers may have had better luck with a GM who has cachet like a Magic Johnson.
If Kobe does re-sign, then the Lakers are like the Miami Heatone of the 2 or 3 hottest teams in the NBA at the end of this past season to go, sigh, 42-40only they'd have Kobe instead of Dwayne Wade. The Lakers could have a starting lineup of Gary Payton, Kobe Bryant, Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, and Brian Grant in which Odom and Grant would be undersized at the 4 and 5 respectively. In that scenario, LAist estimates the Lakers would probably wind up with the six-seed in the West, at best. San Antonio, Minnesota, and Sacramento are all clearly better. Houston with Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming might join that elite group. Memphis is not far behind either. And if Denver can sign Kenyon Martin, then don't count out a Nuggets team with Carmelo Anthony, Andre Miller, Nene Hilario, and K-Mart. And don't forget the Suns who are also looking pretty darn good with Amare Stoudemire, Steve Nash, Shawn Marion, and potentially Quentin Richardson. Or the Utah Jazz, who now have an impressive front-line with Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, and Andrei Kirilenko.
Basically, Kobe Bryant is going to have to play as good as he thinks he is. LAist thinks that while Kobe might be the best player in the NBA right now, he's not Michael Jordan.
As for Shaq, he will ultimately be remembered as one of the great Laker big men, along with George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The Lakers were a mediocre team before he arrived, but it took Phil Jackson's arrival to make Shaq realize his full potential. From 1999-2002 there was no player remotely as good as Shaq in the NBA. He was strong and powerful like none other, but he also was remarkably nimble and a great passer who displayed impressive fundamentals, footwork, and moves to the basket. He was also one of the most affable and humorous people to be around in the league.
But while Shaq worked extremely hard in Phil's first few seasons, the rings probably got to his head later on. After the Lakers third title, he inexplicably delayed toe surgery until September, causing him to miss the first quarter of the season. The Lakers could never properly worked him back into sync with the team, as he used the season to try and get into shape. His decision to delay surgery probably cost the Lakers a 4-peat.
It was also during that time when Kobe Bryant officially passed him as the best player on the Lakers. Even in this past season, Shaq had lost some of his dominance and power inside. He began to settle for more jump hooks and shots around 10-feet. He became less enthusiastic about rebounding, blocked shots, and defense. Shaq again used much of the season to work his way into shape, not really following through with a tough offseason workout regimen. And he was a completely different player depending on how many days of rest he had.
This frustrated Jerry Buss, as did Shaq's refusal to compromise on a contract extension. Because his contract was grandfathered in from the old labor agreement, only he and Kevin Garnett can make more than the maximum salary. But the cap remains the same. Garnett actually took a paycut so that the Timberwolves could add players like Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell. Shaq refuses to back down from his demand for $30 million a year, when it's so obvious that the Lakers lost to Detroit because of their lack of depth. He claims that he can bring in top players like Malone and Payton for the minimum, but why should all of them take paycuts while he eats two-thirds of the cap by himself? Why must he insist that the Lakers be his team, when Kobe is now at least his equal on the floor?
It is understandable that Buss would want to hand the keys to the younger and right now more promising Bryant, but he is taking a major risk this offseason because Kobe is the one who is a free agent. The Lakers could still be a top team with Shaq and whoever they acquire for Kobe in a sign-and-trade.
Still it's absolutely amazing that Shaq and Kobe absolutely refuse to play together. Why couldn't Jerry Buss talk sense into them? Why couldn't Mitch Kupchak be more proactive and make them work together? Why was Phil Jackson never able to make Kobe and Shaq see the value in teamwork and togetherness? How could Laker management simply idly stand by as the tension continued to fester?
But the real disgrace in all of this is that even 3 championships could not mature Shaq and Kobe. Shaq leaves LA with some great memories, but he also leaves as someone whose own ego prevented him from realizing his full potential.
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