It’s been pretty rough since November for the Los Angeles Lakers. Injuries led to disruptions in the team chemistry and since then our beloved heroes have fallen into a bit of a basketball tailwind. This past week has done a fine job of reminding me of my favorite Christmas movie — Groundhog Day. In both Charlotte and Miami, these Lakers had the game all but won before deserting victory in the final moments, and while I can sit here and pummel this dead horse, I still believe this team is on the track they need to be on. We just haven’t lived long enough to see the exciting part yet.
Last night in Miami the spotlight was not on the Lakers or the Heat, which might be surprising in a game between the Lakers and Heat, but on former Cleveland Cavalier Shaquille O’Neal getting his number retired in the American Airlines Arena alongside other non-Heat greats like Michael Jordan and Dan Marino.
This brought to mind another very good question.
Can't make up my mind on MIA retiring Shaq while LAL are visiting. Chance for both to respect Shaq OR shot at LAL for trading him?— Trevor Lane (@Trevor_Lane) December 23, 2016
I would like to think they were showing Shaq the courtesy of allowing him to share this moment with the team he’s more commonly associated with, but more likely they’re itching to make people like me do things like this and dwell on a trade they were perceived to have won back in the day. I mean, that’s why I would’ve done it.
The Big Nickname now has his given name hanging in arenas separated by 2,732 miles of the 10 freeway. I think Matt Moore summed it up pretty well last night on Twitter.
Shaq a legend in three cities.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) December 23, 2016
Still, it’s easy to sit here a decade removed from Shaq’s heyday and think fondly back on his career. Especially because things (eventually) went the Lakers’ way following the divorce from O’Neal. But there was awhile, a long while, where this now current reality was simply a futuristic fantasy. And in the midst of, well, this…
… I thought it would be fun to hop in the wayback machine and chat about that time the Lakers traded the most dominant big man of all time.
EL SEGUNDO, Calif, July 14 — The Los Angeles Lakers have acquired forward Lamar Odom, forward Caron Butler, forward Brian Grant and a future first-round draft pick from the Miami Heat in exchange for center Shaquille ONeal, it was announced today.
That’s how the press release read twelve-and-a-half years ago. It’s still amazing to think about, really. The Lakers shipping out the main reason for three freshly hanging banners seemed to be a franchise death knoll. The way in which they did it, choosing their brash young guard Kobe Bryant over the big man (in a league where big men still had more value than wings, and KB was coming off legal issues) convinced many that the Lakers’ era of dominance was ending. O’Neal’s key role in helping lead his new squad to a championship in ‘06 while the Lakers hovered around .500 all but cemented this view in many minds. It got so bad Kobe demanded a trade, fans booed him on opening night and Rip Hamilton was almost a Laker. The emergence of Andrew Bynum then rescued the Lakers from basketball oblivion. They started winning and the off-court turmoil subsided. Many will tell you Memphis handed the Lakers three straight Finals runs with that Pau Gasol trade, but few will recall that LA was in first place in a crowded Western Conference at the time of that acquisition.
From there the Lakers went on to win two more titles while Shaq bounced around the league before retiring, leaving Kobe & Co. our victors despite an early deficit. I suppose that’s appropriate. On paper the trade still looks lopsided. The haul the Lakers brought in doesn’t stack up to Shaq, but nobody could (or can). Butler and Grant never really provided much for LA. Butler’s crowning achievement became being the guy who was traded for the guy who was traded for Pau Gasol. I guess that’s something. Odom, however, became a key cog in back-to-back title teams, embracing his role in LA and thriving as the team’s bench leader, winning Sixth Man of the Year in ‘11. Odom will be a Laker legend forever, and should get his jersey retired even though he likely won’t make the HOF.
That future first-round draft pick also happened to turn into Jordan Farmar, who proved more than capable of being the backup point guard on back-to-back title winning teams – no easy feat.
Sitting here as we close in on 2017, yeah I’d make that trade again.
On a long enough timeline all of us look like idiots. We’re so quick to judge and determine, and we do so with absolute certainty — there is no in between. The legacy of the Shaq trade shouldn’t be about whether or not it was the right move, or who won or lost. It should be a lesson in premature proclamations. Something we use as an example the next time we see tweets trying to declare the winner in a trade that hasn’t even been finalized by the teams involved. Sometimes one team wins. Sometimes one team loses. Sometimes it takes 15 years to truly find out.
So did the Heat win the Shaq trade? Sure, but so did the Lakers.