June 19 marked the 20-year anniversary of the day the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Indiana Pacers in the NBA Finals, which, as we know now, marked the beginning of one of the greatest basketball dynasties ever. However, as important as that series was, it wasn’t the most exciting playoff series they played that year.
Before beating the Pacers in six games, the Lakers played seven games against the Portland Trail Blazers, and the series was decided by just five points. Had the Western Conference Finals swung in Portland’s favor, Shaq told Howard Beck of Bleacher Report that he likely would have been traded:
It left everyone involved wondering: What if the Blazers had held on in Game 7?
O’Neal: I know I definitely would have been the scapegoat, if we didn’t win that game. I know I probably would have been gone.
O’Neal: Oh yeah, right away.
The logic behind that move wouldn’t have been too hard to follow. O’Neal had already been with the Lakers for four seasons, and with four years left on his contract, they feasibly would have gotten a huge return for him and been able to build around Kobe Bryant.
That being said, O’Neal had averaged an NBA-best 29.7 points per game in addition to 13.6 rebounds and 3 blocks per game. When you have a player that dominant, you typically don’t trade him in the prime of his career, and with that many years left on his contract.
That’s probably why Rick Fox and Robert Horry were more confident the role players on the team — them included — would have been moved if the Lakers fell short of expectations:
Fox: I think they would have probably moved me, Robert and Fish to find more help for Shaq and Kobe. Because they would have said, “You guys have been together for four years, and you can’t [win it].”
Horry: Phil loved Fish. It was going to be, my head would roll, Rick’s head would roll. … Phil wanted to get rid of me so, so many times. Unfortunately for him, we kept winning!
To be a little more specific, the Lakers won three consecutive championships — something that had only been done four times before that and hasn’t been done since, Yes, the 2000 Western Conference Finals was an entertaining series, but in hindsight, it was much more than that for the Lakers.