On the amazing ripple effects of the 2004 Shaq Trade

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Remember the Summer of 2004? The Lakers, who came into the season with Gary Payton, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, and Shaq making up 80% of their starting 5, had just lost a “gentlemen’s sweep” to the Detroit Pistons. Kobe Bryant was a free agent. Shaq still had that pre-max monster of a deal, and he wasn’t getting any younger or getting along with Kobe any better.

The Lakers had to make a decision, especially when Kobe forced their hand by saying that he wouldn’t come back next season if Shaq was still on the team. (Revisionist history glosses over this fact, but Phil Jackson’s book The Last Season clearly states that Phil had that exact conversation with Kobe, and Kobe re-signed with the Lakers the day after Shaq was traded. The Lakers were going to have to make a tough decision on Shaq and his huge contract anyways, but come on.)

The Lakers ultimately decided to trade Shaq for Brian Grant, Caron Butler, and Lamar Odom. After that, the following things happened:

– Okay, Brian Grant never really became important.

– The Heat had the best record in the East, a relatively svelte Shaq narrowly lost the MVP vote to Steve Nash, and the Heat took the Pistons to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Meanwhile, Kobe, struggling with injuries, a new coach, and new teammates, had one of the worst seasons of his career, and the Lakers actually missed the playoffs.

– Because they missed the playoffs, the Lakers got the 10th overall pick, and decided to take a risk on high school big man Andrew Bynum. This would become important later. (Meanwhile, the Warriors, who picked Todd Fuller 11th the year Kobe Bryant was drafted 13th, drafted Ike Diogu one pick ahead of Bynum. The Magic took Fran Vasquez directly after Bynum. Again, this would become important later.)

– In 05-06, after the Lakers traded Caron Butler for Kwame Brown, a healthy and motivated Bryant averaged the highest PPG of his career, but the wafer-thin Lakers lost to the Suns in 7 games. Meanwhile, the Heat were able to stun the Mavericks and win the NBA title with Shaq playing a vital role, although Miami clearly would not have come close to winning it all without Dwayne Wade’s historically great finals performance.

– At the 2007-08 trade deadline, the Lakers used Kwame Brown’s expiring contract, which came from the Caron Butler trade, which came from the Shaq trade, to acquire Pau Gasol. The Lakers went to the Finals that year and lost to the Celtics, but won the next two championships with Kobe, Pau, Lamar Odom, and Andrew Bynum (when healthy) leading the way.

– Meanwhile, Shaq, after being traded to the Suns and missing the playoffs, was acquired by the Cavaliers as a “Dwight-stopper,” and ultimately ended up helping end the LeBron era because the Cavaliers’ anti-Magic frontcourt got eaten alive by Boston’s frontcourt as the Celtics beat the Cavaliers in six games. (Yes, LeBron had some bad performances in that series, particularly game 5, but the frontcourt mismatches were a HUGE reason the Celtics shredded the Cavaliers.) You have to admit, the levels of irony here are incredible.

– After the 2010 season, LeBron James announces that he is leaving Cleveland and taking his talents to South Beach. Many people notice.

***PURE SPECULATION COMING UP***

Consider this: If Wade doesn’t have a ring, do you think he would have been able to convince LeBron to leave his hometown team, which was coming off of consecutive 60+ win seasons, and become, for a time, perhaps the most hated athlete in America. (There’s a real possibility of this — LeBron wanted to play with friends/superstars, LRMR had LeBron convinced that everyone would love him no matter what, and Miami does reportedly have nice weather in the winter. Still, I think Wade’s 2006 ring really, really helped LeBron make his “decision.”

***PURE SPECULATION OVER***

– The Heat make the Finals in each of the next two seasons, losing in 6 games in 2011 and winning in 5 games in 2012. If you’re keeping score at home and believe my theory (which may be a stretch), the Shaq trade has now led to the Heat and Lakers winning two championships apiece.

– Cut to the summer of 2012. The Lakers manage to flip Lamar Odom’s trade exception for Steve Nash, and flip Andrew Bynum, the lottery pick they got because the year directly after Shaq left was the one year they were bad enough to make the lottery, gets effectively flipped for Dwight Howard. The Lakers now have a starting lineup of Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, and Metta World Peace, and are instant title contenders again.

So there you have it — eight years after the Lakers and Heat made a blockbuster trade for the most dominant center of this era, they each have two championships under their belt, and at least three of those four total championships can be directly traced back to the Shaq trade. On top of that, the two teams may well be on a collision course to meet in the 2013 finals, which makes the whole sequence of events that much more incredible.

Thunder’s Taj Gibson providing scoring help for Westbrook

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Taj Gibson often describes his role for the Thunder as doing whatever the team needs.

For now, scoring is playing a bigger part than usual. The versatile 6-foot-9 power forward has found his way since being traded from Chicago and has emerged one of Oklahoma City’s few consistent offensive weapons alongside Russell Westbrook in the playoffs. He may need to keep it up to give the Thunder a chance of winning the first-round series with Houston – Oklahoma City trails 2-1 heading into Game 4 Sunday at home.

Gibson built a sterling reputation in Chicago, but the Brooklyn, New York native is more concerned with the respect he’s earned since his arrival.

“They see I’m in here late nights, early mornings, just constantly working with my teammates, constantly putting work in,” he said. “The confidence is going to be there because they understand you do the work, but I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help my team.”

Gibson has done a little bit of everything since coming to the Thunder. He has provided experience and versatility to an already stacked frontline that includes emerging young players Steven Adams and Enes Kanter. He also has added toughness, and at times, scoring punch. His athleticism and ability to guard on the perimeter against outside-shooting big men and on switches fills some of the void created when the Thunder traded Serge Ibaka on draft night this past offseason.

“Great vet,” guard Victor Oladipo said. “Great man, first and foremost. Very positive and does what it takes to win. It was a great pickup for us.”

Domantas Sabonis was the starting power forward when Gibson arrived in Oklahoma City, but once he got settled and began to understand coach Billy Donovan’s system, the Thunder improved. Gibson replaced Sabonis for the first time March 9 against San Antonio, and the Thunder went 11-5 with him in the starting lineup. He averaged 9.0 points and 4.5 rebounds in 21 regular-season games for the Thunder.

He is averaging 11 points on 65 percent shooting in the playoffs. He was effective on offense in Game 2, establishing himself early and helping put the Thunder in position to win. Oklahoma City went away from him late, and Houston rallied for the victory.

In Game 3, the Thunder went back to him consistently. a href(equals)’https://apnews.com/dab4b99c496a4450906c11a9c72132d1/Westbrook’s-triple-double-leads-Thunder-past-Rockets-115-113?utm-campaign=SocialFlow&utm-source=Twitter&utm-medium=AP-Sports’He finished with 20 points on 10-for-13 shooting in Oklahoma City’s 115-113 win/a on Friday night.

“Taj is a great post player,” Westbrook said. “He does a great job of getting in great position down low. When we see a matchup that we like we are going to keep going to him. Whether it is a miss or a make, it gives us the opportunity to score the basketball in the paint.”

Gibson did damage inside and out and punished the Rockets with his mid-range jumper.

“It’s no shock to me, just because that mid-range is automatic for him,” Thunder forward Doug McDermott, who also joined the Thunder in the trade with Chicago, said. “He’s tough to guard on that block too.”

Gibson also had a fast start in Game 2, but once the Thunder began to struggle, they went away from him. Gibson knew he didn’t need to change much going into Game 3.

“Just continue to be aggressive,” he said. “I felt like I had good shots in Game 2. Just got to stay with it and play the game as it flows to me.”

On defense, Gibson has been a better option than Kanter and Adams, who have struggled to keep up with the more athletic Rockets. Gibson performed well in all facets in Game 3, and Donovan needs more of that in Game 4.

“I was happy for him last night,” Donovan said Saturday. “I thought he gave us a great lift in both the first and second half. He’s professional, he’s a man, and he’s a reliable guy.”

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .

Watch Kawhi Leonard, Mike Conley in epic playoff duel Saturday (VIDEO)

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Kawhi Leonard scored 16 straight points for the Spurs at the end of regulation to give San Antonio the lead and a chance. Then Mike Conley hit a floater in the lane forced overtime.

There Mike Conley hit a floating bank shot that had the Grizzlies up three with :47 seconds left, only to have Leonard answer with a three to tie the game. Marc Gasol would break that tie and get Memphis the series-evening win.

Conley and Leonard traded blows through the clutch parts of Saturday’s epic Game 4 between Memphis and San Antonio. It’s worth checking out the highlights again.

John Wall goes coast-to-coast, behind-the-back for lefty dunk (VIDEO)

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There’s not going to be many plays better than this in the entire playoffs.

There wasn’t a lot for Wizards’ fans to cheer in Game 3, the Hawks took control early and routed Washington, making it a 2-1 series. But there was this, John Wall going coast-to-coast with the ball, going around-the-back and throwing it down left handed.

Wall is just so fast end to end.

Warriors take 3-0 series lead over Blazers with 119-113 win

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Stephen Curry scored 34 points, Klay Thompson added 24 and the short-handed Golden State Warriors overcame a slow start to take a 3-0 lead in their playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers with a 119-113 victory on Saturday night.

The Blazers led by as many as 17 points in the first half, but couldn’t hold off the Warriors, who can clinch the series with a win Monday night in Game 4 at the Moda Center.

Golden State was without Kevin Durant, who was sitting for a second straight game cause of a left calf strain, and coach Steve Kerr stayed back at the team hotel because of illness.

The Warriors took a 108-100 lead after Andre Iguodala‘s dunk with 4:05 to go.

Noah Vonleh‘s dunk got Portland within four at 110-106 with 1:29 left, but Curry answered with a 3-pointer that all but sealed it, sending fans streaming for the exits.

CJ McCollum led the Blazers with 32 points, while Damian Lillard added 31.