In 2004, the Los Angeles Lakers fell short of winning an NBA Championship despite having an impressive quartet of Kobe Bryant, Gary Payton, Karl Malone, and Shaquille O’Neal. Injuries took their toll on the Lakers, and they lost in the NBA Finals to the Detroit Pistons.
That summer, with Bryant exploring other options as a free agent, the Lakers decided to trade O’Neal to the Miami Heat in exchange for Lamar Odom, Brian Grant, Caron Butler, and a future first-round pick that would eventually be used on Jordon Farmar. It was a controversial move, but one that was seen as a necessity to convince Bryant to stay, since the relationship between the two stars had become strained.
O’Neal would go on to win a championship with Dwyane Wade in Miami, while Bryant would eventually win two more alongside Pau Gasol years later. However, that hasn’t stopped many from wondering how many more titles the Shaq-Kobe combo would have won if they had stayed together. Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak admitted to Bill Oram of the OC Register that he has also considered how things would have turned out, but he cautioned against dwelling on it for too long:
“It would have been nice to find out. But you can’t undo what the environment was 12 years ago. You’ve got to deal with what the present provides. So yeah it’s nice to think about it, but that’s really not a reality. It’s not realistic to think that way.”
Of course, Kupchak is correct, but the split will still be something that fans will think about for years to come. Two of the top players in the league went their separate ways despite all of the success they had together, and while things ultimately worked out for both parties, we will always imagine what could have been.