The break-up of the Los Angeles Lakers teams centered on Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant that three-peated in the early 2000’s has been discussed to death, with most of the talks centering on how many titles they would’ve won had they stayed together.
Instead of finding out, then-Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak traded O’Neal to the Miami Heat and re-signed Bryant over the 2004 offseason to rebuild around him. That eventually resulted in two more championships for the Lakers in 2009 and 2010.
While some have suggested the Lakers could’ve won even more than that if they’d kept the band together, Derek Fisher, who was a key piece of those teams, explained that core had to be broken up for a few simple reasons, via The Full 48 podcast hosted by Howard Beck:
“I think it needed to happen at that time. Just because there had been a lot of energy and passion and hear that had gone into building the dominance that we had established in the early 2000s. I think it almost had to happen in order for even us to appreciate what it is we had been doing. I thought we knew we had been winning championships, but I don’t think we understood the gravity of what we were creating at that time in terms of the ability to sustain success.
We were the closest thing to those Bulls teams from the early 90s, and we were all still fairly young. I think [the breakup] had to happen just because it wasn’t fun. We weren’t enjoying the process of playing basketball together. It was heavy, it was dark, it became transactional. There were so many different aspects of each of us kind of pulling at the fabric of being a team.”
It might seem strange that the Lakers could be miserable if they were winning, but it’s important to remember that winning only goes so far. These players still had to go to work every day, and if they weren’t enjoying playing together, the harder cohesion is to find on the floor.
That lack of joy was palpable by the time the team was broken up in 2004, so it’s no surprise that Kupchak felt they needed to shake things up and go a different direction.
While the Lakers might have been able to win more championships with the Shaq-Kobe rosters, their decision to go another way ended up bringing them two more banners, so it’s hard to argue with the way they went.
And while there was animosity between Bryant and O’Neal after the split, the two have since made amends and been present for one another’s honors with the Lakers.
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