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.