One of the most memorable games in Los Angeles Lakers history is Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals against the Portland Trail Blazers. Down 15 points with 10 minutes to go, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant led the Lakers on a run that would give L.A. the series win, and eventually the championship to go with it.
Fans — and many involved with the Lakers at that time — call that game the turning point for a franchise that had been unable to get over the hump, and the start a dynasty. Coming back from 15 minutes in the fourth quarter, especially in an era that was known for its slow pace, is no easy task.
And had the Lakers not been able to complete it, it could have changed the history of the team and possibly the league. O’Neal, in particular, believes a Game 7 loss that year could have been the end for him in L.A., saying that he would’ve been the scapegoat, according to Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:
“I know I definitely would have been the scapegoat, if we didn’t win that game. I know I probably would have been gone. Oh yeah, right away.”
While trading O’Neal after the 2000 NBA Playoffs sounds premature, it’s important to remember that the 1999-2000 season was already his fourth with the Lakers. In the three years prior, they lost in the Conference Finals once and the second round twice. Another loss prior to the NBA Finals may have very well prompted change.
O’Neal was also his most dominant at this time, and still had multiple years left on his contract. A trade for O’Neal would have brought the Lakers an unbelievable haul, and it would’ve began the Bryant-led era earlier than expected.
While this probably wouldn’t have been a good trade given what we know now, it serves as both a great hypothetical and a reminder about championship windows in the NBA.
O’Neal and Bryant playing together for eight years and winning three championships together would be unprecedented today. Teams simply don’t stay together as long in this era of basketball as they used to.
Nonetheless, a somewhat improbable 15-point comeback not happening easily could have changed everything. It would have put O’Neal on a different roster and given a 21-year-old his own team, leading one of the NBA’s premier franchises.
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