Shaquille O'Neal deal brought Heat a championship and Lakers some hope.
Published December 26, 2006
MIAMI · We need a winner, and we need a loser. Every game. Every season. Every trade. Sports observers do not tolerate shades of gray, and therefore we scoff at any suggestion that two sides could have fared well in the same transaction.
Even when they did.
The Heat and Lakers reprised their faux rivalry for a third straight, and hopefully last, Christmas on Monday afternoon, a lingering consequence of the deal they consummated on July 14, 2004. That trade sent Shaquille O'Neal to South Florida for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and the draft pick that became Jordan Farmar -- who, incidentally, was the only one of the aforementioned players to actually participate in the Heat's 101-85 victory.
That means the Heat has won four of five matchups between the teams since the trade, including all three on the holiday, in a series that quickly has become as stale as a pop song in heavy radio rotation.
The Heat has played in 38 playoff games since the deal. The Lakers? Seven.
The Heat has won one NBA title. The Lakers? They have won some early vacation.
Those results have led many to view the deal as lopsided. It's not so simple. In retrospect, this increasingly looks like a move that each side had to make, and one that neither will regret.
Start with the Heat.
Start with this premise: Even if O'Neal never again wears anything but a sharp suit inside AmericanAirlines Arena, he has proven his worth. NBA titles are precious. If you win one in 30 years, the numbers say that you have matched the odds. In reality, you have beaten them. Eleven franchises have split the last 30 championships, and the Bulls, Spurs, Lakers, Celtics and Pistons have won 23 of those. As Hall of Fame player and coach Lenny Wilkens said, "When you have a chance, you go for it. You never know when you'll have another."
The Kings, Trail Blazers, Pacers and Jazz all fell just short of raising the ultimate banner to their rafters.
The Heat did, and O'Neal's presence, however diminished, played a role in that.
So yes, it would be nice if O'Neal could be available in an occasional fall or winter contest, if only to reward season-ticket holders who would rather not spend their cash on the slop the Heat has frequently showcased this season. Yes, Butler and Odom have continued to blossom, and would have played a more aesthetically pleasing style in combination with Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem and Dorell Wright. Yes, those final three seasons on O'Neal's contract are troubling, because the few games he graces may be unwatchable.
Still, you make the trade.
As Lakers forward Luke Walton said after Monday's contest, "Everybody knows they are going to be one of the best teams in the East when it comes down to it."
After all, there has to be a fastest turtle, a safest cabdriver, a funniest monk.
The Heat should be an East threat, whatever the starting seed, provided Wade and O'Neal are healthy, and the defense is as tight as it was Monday.
So, how about the Lakers?
You make the trade again.
Say they had re-signed O'Neal, on his terms, as a reward for his service.
What would they have to show now?
Maybe one more title, if Phil Jackson or some other coach (Pat Riley?) had been able to convince O'Neal and Kobe Bryant to work together. But how long would peace have lasted? More likely, Bryant would have left in free agency if the Lakers had extended O'Neal. What if Bryant had left for the talented Clippers, starring in the same building, haunting and embarrassing his former franchise?
The Lakers would have been left with an aging center in steady numerical decline, with a work ethic Jackson recently questioned. They would not have Odom who, when healthy, is clearly their second-best player. They would not have Kwame Brown, the enigmatic yet physically promising big man they acquired for Butler.
They would not have much hope.
They have that now. While they will not win the strong West this season, even after an 18-10 start, they are poised to rise in upcoming years as other franchises inevitably slip. Bryant is 28, Odom is 27, Luke Walton is 26, Brown is 24 and Andrew Bynum is 19.
This Christmas series is 3 years old. The Lakers will be fine, as long as those players age better than it has.
The Lakers should have kept the young Caron Butler with them though.
yes... now it seems like a Shaq for Lamar trade... Lamar is doing pretty well though... but if the Heat kept Butler and Odom... signed a big man in the next season... i don't see they not winning a championship...
The Lakers need to get to the finals by next year for this trade to really break even.
You've gotta remember, with Shaq on the team, they were able to land Alonzo Mourning and Gary Payton for minimum contracts. That don't happen if he isn't on the team. They got their ring already. Who knows if they can turn it around this year, but even if they end up in the lottery, the trade still works for them.
Also, the Heat were able to move Brian Grants horrible contracts. They then got rid of Eddie Jones' contract the next year and he had one of the worst contracts in the league as well.
Kobe is a great player. Imo, he's the best overall player in the league. He should be playing for CHAMPIONSHIPS right now. It's like a good 3-5 year portion of his career will end up being used to try to get the team back to where it already was. The West looks like it will remain very strong for the next few years. Mavs, Suns, Rox, Nuggets, Spurs, Jazz. All these teams should be strong in the coming years still. Now he's playing the underdog role and somehow, making it to game 7 of the first round was actually a great accomplishment or some sort. I'm not trying to sound like a hater, but let's remember that it's all about winning the ring. They are taking steps forward now for sure, but they tooks huge steps back after the trade, so they aren't even where they were at the time of the trade.