6. Signing Karl Malone and Gary Payton: July, 2003: After the Los Angeles Lakers were dispatched in six games by the San Antonio Spurs in the 2003 Western Conference Semifinals, Mitch Kupchak went to extreme measures to improve his roster.
Before it was an NBA trend for big market NBA teams to form big threes and fours, Kupchak broke the mold in the summer of 2003, signing free agent stars Karl Malone and Gary Payton to join Kobe and Shaq. Early expectations were naturally huge. Some predicted the team would 70 games and have a cakewalk to the 2004 championship.
The season proved to be one of the most tumultuous in team history. Kobe and Shaq’s feud reached an all-time high, Kobe split his time between the basketball court and legal court. Payton and Phil Jackson clashed, and Karl Malone played through the NBA Finals with an injured leg.
The season ultimately ended in disappointment. The Lakers were upset by the Pistons in the Finals, and the team’s core was broken-up during the offseason. Malone, Payton, Shaq, Derek Fisher and Rick Fox would not be on the roster the following season.
But the additions of Payton and Malone can’t be considered a complete disappointment. The Lakers did win the Western Conference, in addition to possibly setting the template for the current “Superteams” we see today.
Next Page: A legend leaves town