The Summer of 2004 was a tough one to swallow for Laker fans. LA was coming off of an embarrassing 4-1 NBA Finals loss to the Detroit Pistons, despite having four future hall-of-famers on their roster (technically, only three were active, but that’s another story). Additionally, Phil Jackson announced his retirement from coaching, the Lakers were inches away from losing Kobe Bryant to their locker-room “rival” Clippers and oh yeah, Shaquille O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat in what seemed like the most lopsided trade in NBA history. Although I still think we could have gotten a CONSIDERABLY better deal than we did for the Big Fella, one would be hard pressed to look down on what has eventually become of the Shaq trade.
Call me crazy but I’m glad we traded Shaq. Did it hurt like a gunshot wound to see the end of a dynasty? Yes, it was unbelievably painful. Did it seem that the Lakers got the short end of the stick in the trade? Of course, that was inevitable. However, if you look at what the trade has translated to, it’s hard not to agree that it was the best decision for the franchise moving forward.
Lamar Odom, who was the focal point of Miami’s package for Shaq, is the only player remaining from the deal that went down six summers ago, and he is now the team’s stud sixth man as opposed to the sidekick he was expected to be. The other players acquired in the deal have long gone; Caron Butler was traded to Washington after one season in LA and Brian Grant was released from the team after an injury plagued year with the team. The Lakers also received a 2006 first round draft pick from Miami, which they used on Jordan Farmar, who was a key spark plug off of the bench during his four seasons as a Laker. However, Farmar is also considered an ex-Laker now, as he signed with the New Jersey Nets this summer. Though it may seem as if the Lakers received a sixth man and a backup point guard for Shaq, that is hardly the case.
The departure of Shaq made the 2004-2005 season quite the struggle for the Purple and Gold, forcing the Lakers into the lottery for the first time since 1994, where they used the 10th pick in the draft to select Andrew Bynum, who has become one of the better centers in the league when healthy. Additionally, Butler was flipped to Washington for Kwame Brown, who the Lakers used in the heist of Pau Gasol from Memphis during the 2008 NBA season. Although it was done indirectly, Lakers General Manager, Mitch Kupchak was able to turn Shaq into Gasol, Bynum and Odom, who have all become apart of the Lakes championship core. If that would have been the original deal, I would have said goodbye to Shaq without even blinking.
If the Lakers would have kept O’Neal, there is not a chance in this world this team would be anywhere close to the position it is in now. At the time of the trade, Shaq was 32 years old, out of shape and had about two or three more years before his career began to hit rock bottom. Keeping him would have meant the likely departure of Kobe Bryant, who was waiting to take complete control of the reigns to the team. The Lakers might not have been as bad as they were during the 2004-2005 season, but they surely would not have been anywhere close to two titles deep by 2010. While the Lakers did have to suffer three years of mediocracy and disappointment, it was wall worth it, considering the Lakers are the two-time defending champs and are favored to three-peat.
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