by Mike B
After inking a seven year, $121 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1996, Shaquille O'Neal, with the help of Kobe Bryant, lead his new team to three consecutive NBA titles from 2000-2002.
The Lakers were bounced out of the playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs in '03, but reached the Finals in '04, where they lost to the overachieving Detroit Pistons in five games.
In the summer of '04, management decided to break up the dynamic duo of Shaq and Kobe, who were constantly feuding with one another, and rebuild the team around the much-younger Bryant.
O'Neal was traded to the Miami Heat in exchange for Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, Brian Grant, and future first-round draft pick (Jordan Farmar).
Without Shaq, the Lakers missed the playoffs in '05, suffered first-round exits the following two years, lost in the finals in '08, and then won it all in '09.
So basically, the Lakers didn't turn into a perennial lottery team by trading O'Neal, but just imagine what may have happened if the deal had never went down.
What if Shaq and Kobe could have worked out their differences and had remained the best of friends and what if head coach Phil Jackson didn't take a one-year leave?
Just how many more championships could they have won together? At least two or three.
It would have been pretty interesting to watch Shaq and Kobe switch roles. Shaq would have went from "The Man" of the team to Kobe's superstar sidekick, much like he did in Miami with Dwyane Wade.
Speaking of D-Wade, he might have been ringless today if he had never joined forces with Shaq. But then again, the Heat could have packaged Odom, Butler, and Grant and acquired another star that Wade could have teamed with to win a title.
You never know.
It's unclear what role players may have been brought in to surround the Kobe-Shaq duo.
It definetley would have been interesting to see Karl Malone and Gary Payton stick around for at least another year. Malone might have retired with a championship and Payton might have gotten his ring in LA instead of Miami.
You probably would have seen the Lakers sign fairly inexpensive veterans like Alonzo Mourning, who backed up Shaq in Miami, Michael Finley and Antonio McDyess.
And if the Lakers hadn't traded Shaq, they likely would have owned a lower pick in the '05 draft meaning they could have taken either Danny Granger, Nate Robinson or David Lee instead of Andrew Bynum.
A trio of Kobe, Shaq, and Granger wouldn't have quite been Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and James Worthy, but it would have led the Lakers to tons of victories.
But does it really matter who the role players would have been? The Lakers won three titles with a non-All-Star supporting cast that included guys like Derek Fisher, Brian Shaw, and Rick Fox.
As long as they had a healthy Shaq and Kobe, the Lakers could have won with a bunch of middle school kids filling in as the role players.
Yes, the Lakers may have hung a few more championship banners in Staples Center if Shaq was never sent packing, but on the other hand, it could have turned out to be a total disaster.
We'll never know what may have happened.
Hindsight is 20/20.
Link: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/335430-what-if-the-la-lakers-had-ne ver-traded-shaquille-oneal